Monday, August 27, 2007

Travelblog Austria/Germany, The Observations

I just got back from my trip to Austria and Germany, one that cost less than $1500 for my wife and I for 9 days. How you might ask?
  • Frequent Flyer miles: I do enough business travel that this builds up, but there are always little tricks knocking about like the "eat at 25 restaurants on this list, spend over $25, get 35000 miles" one that helped put me over the top.
  • Hotel points: These are the red-headed stepchild of travel benefits, but in terms of how much they are worth, they can be more valuable than airline miles.
  • Cheap car. I can drive a stick shift, and so the car wasn't too expensive. Unlike on a typical business trip, you don't want to get a big car because gas is a small fortune in Europe and the roads are small, so the smaller the better. Fortunately small=cheap.
I'm nothing if not a miles/points scrounger, and so I've been able to do a couple of these in my lifetime. Right now I'm low on hotel points, but I could do another flight easily. Some of my general observations:
  • If you're on a toilet paper run on the Germany/Austria border, spend the extra time to go to a German store. All things considered, even the toilet paper in public bathrooms in Germany beat the toilet paper at 5-star hotels in Austria. I wouldn't have thought that was the case, but I experienced it.
  • German drivers are just as bad as those anywhere. Don't let anybody fool you, even though they can certainly build a sweet road (if only I had my car over there instead of the piece of crap I did - it was shaking like a Mexican space shuttle when I hit 100 MPH), they still are prone to gawk, rubberneck, cut off, and get in an accident.
  • The Autobahn is a driving mecca. Give me some of this action, US! I don't know how it works, but it does work with people going at 120 MPH and others going 60 MPH. I think the key is that you don't pass on the right and that if you are slow in that fast lane you're likely to have a BMW permanently attached to your rear bumper.
  • Anarchists must not have great spacial reasoning skills, at least those who feel it's their duty to spray paint monuments and other assorted masonaria. This is the first, and in my opinion greatest example I saw of it on my trip:
  • Engrish is not just an Oriental phenomenon. I had thought this during my previous trips to Europe, as the English was pretty good. However, I saw a couple of examples that almost put Japanese Engrish to shame:
  • I don't think I'll whinge about US gas prices for a good long time. We payed the US equivalent of $7/gallon in Europe. If that doesn't make $3/gallon look good, I don't know what will. What really annoyed me is that I didn't fill up before leaving Austria, because their gas was a solid .20/liter cheaper than in Germany. Dar you not having internet!
  • Everyone spoke English! It was crazy, but I never felt like I had to break out my non-existent German skills. I seem to recall this from past trips to Europe, but this was certainly a nice reminder. I don't know if that makes me an ugly American or not, but I was quite happy with the not having to speak German or relying on a system of pointing and mispronouncing to be somewhat understood.
  • I loved this trip. We were going to take our little girl, but we decided about two weeks before we left to not. It was the best decision we made. Our daughter loved staying with her grandparents and we loved having the freedom to do whatever we wanted on the trip. Every parent should plan to have a few days away from their kids at least once every couple of years. You need it...they don't so much, but it helps you to focus on your relationship rather than you + the kids.
  • Driving in Germany was much easier than anticipated, even with the insane amount of oblivious bikers. I'd not want to do it for a living or anything, but it gave us far more freedom than the original plan of a rail pass did, plus it was cheaper, even when you factor in the cost of gas and garaging the car.

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