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Trip Report Posting from Europe: Germany, Denmark and France

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We are on a three week trip and I will be posting snippets from the road for anyone who is interested. Much of the trip is to visit relatives so there won't be a huge amount of tourist information here, but I will do my best to make it relevant.

We are starting our journey in Munich, Germany. Our hotel is the Novatel Muenchen City and I am so impressed! I'm typing at the moment on one of their hugs Macs in the lobby. Internet in the lobby is free, in the room it's 19 Euros a day. The only trouble with the lobby computers is that during the day the kids use them to play games. There is a 20 minute limit before they time out, but that's why I'm typing this at 3am (can't sleep anyway). The included breakfast this morning was amazing. So many different types of fabulous breads, cheese, salmon, lunch meats, self serve fresh squeezed juice, waffles, yoghurts of all kinds with muesli and berries and fruits, not to mention a mid boggling array of sausages, potatoes and an omelet station. You could make it through the whole day without eating again. The hotel is modern in design and the rooms are bright, roomy and comfortable.

We had rented a vehicle from Europcar at the airport and they upgraded us to a small Mercedes. Alas, we do have to pay for parking here at the hotel. Relatives met us at the airport and after checking us in, we proceeded immediately to a beer garden. It was May 1st, a holiday in Europe, the weather was sunny, warm and fabulous and the tables were filled with revelers. Huge glasses of beer, the size of pitchers and fat pretzels as big around as a basketball tided us over until dinner. These beer gardens are shaded by huge trees, now loaded with white cone shaped blossoms. I was told they were chestnut trees and are ubiquitous in beer gardens. You can bring your own food, or purchase it there: huge pork hocks, spare ribs and sausages. It was a great festive atmosphere and we repeated it the following day with our other relatives at the Englisher Garden. We were seating around the pagoda which housed a brass band playing festive music. Families were out on their bikes, from the parents to the littlest toddlers with their pastel helmuts, joggers, walkers. What a great scene. This park reminded me of Central Park in New York. One section of this park is reserved for nudists. If you are not careful you could stumble upon a businessman reclining on the grass, his business suit neatly folded on the grass beside him.

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    I will continue this posting as days go by and will post photos eventually to my blog as well. To read more detail you can access it at www.maggiwun.blogspot.com. Will try to get some zzz's now and pick this up again as soon as I can.

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    Very nice beginning!

    As a German it's interesting to read how Germany and the Germans are seen thru the eyes of foreign tourists!

    Interesting indeed!

    Enjoy you further trip!

    BTW: The huge beer is called "Maß" (M = M, A = from Atlanta, ß=S) Prost!

    SV

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    Thanks SV. The huge beers are funny. There is one callede a "Radler" (bicyclist) which is beer mixed with 7-Up. We see groups of men enjoying a time out together to get drunk, pulling a sled filled with cases of beer.

    Everywhere we go people serve us delicious white asparagus. There are farmer stands everywhere selling it, since it is in season. Another thing that is ubiquitous are acres and acres of yellow fields of rapeseed. I believe it is used to make a certain kind of biofuel. It's beautiful driving through the countryside dotted with field after field of this beautiful yellow flower. To celebrate my birthday one family produced huge wine glasses filled with a bright green punch called "Waldmeister". It is a concoction made with an herb called woodruff which is soaked in alcohol, hence the green color and wine and champagne are added to it. Very festive looking and tasty too.

    We also are enjoying music at each home. All the cousins are talented musically. One young couple (whom I accompanied at a wedding in Stockholm a few years ago) are opera singers. He is in great demand and is quite well known in the area. His wife teaches music too and their oldest child who is 8 attends a special music school and is learning three instruments. The boyfriend of my niece (a German) was hit by a car while riding his bike from Alaska to Mexico. He was in an induced coma for 10 days. He told me the first thing he did when they brought him out of it was sing "Country Road, Bring Me Home", all the stanzas by John Denver. He sang it for us and accompanied himself on the guitar. It was very touching. He is still somewhat impaired, but one of the nicest guys...

    Today we took the train from Kassel to Copenhagen. It was fascinating to see the train pull onto the ferry. We had to disembark and wait upstairs in the ferry during the crossing. It was huge! Several restaurants, a smoking lounge and a duty free shop. When we arrived at our Copenhagen hotel we had dinner with friends and strolled around Tivoli, a 160 year old amusement park beautifully lit and awash in gorgeous tulip gardens.

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    Great you had the white asparagus. Hopefully you got it with a decent original "Sauce Hollandaise" ;-) Not particularly low cal but heavenly!

    It seems you are really having a great time - now in Denmark!

    Enjoy!

    SV

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    Thanks, SV. We did have a great time, with one huge problem. I will write about it later. As you see, I didn't post on the road after all. It was such a busy time and I was just too exhausted at the end of each day to sit at the computer.

    I left off as we were had just gotten to Copenhagen. Our hotel was the Best Western Hebron. Our friends chose it for us because it was within walking distance from the train station and close to Tivoli. The rooms were miniscule and the decor very dated, but on the positive side they had a very nice breakfast and a comfortable sitting lounge with free coffee/espresso machine where my girlfriend and I played Scrabble. It was next to a strip club, but it wasn't a "bad" neighborhood, imo. The hotel was expensive, compared to the beautiful Novotel in Munich. I did enjoy walking each morning in the area. I would walk to a series of lakes/ponds near the planetarium. Lots of people were out jogging, walking and biking. You could rent a bike by putting coins in the bike stand and then drop the bike at another bike stand to get your coin back, kind of like the shopping carts here at home at Aldi.

    We ate at A Hereford Beefstouw, close to Tivoli. They specialize in beef, as you can see from the name. And it was very good indeed. It is served on extremely hot plates with your choice of potato. The salad bar was a hit with some of our friends. You would fill out your order on a list and hand it to the waitstaff. I was fascinated by our tables which were made of butcher block and had a pen attached by a string and a hook with a kitchen towel as a napkin. Afterward, we walked from the restaurant right into Tivoli, awash with gorgeous tulips and spring flowers. A concert band played in the bandshell. The park was lit up like a Christmas tree. We stopped for drinks in one of the many bars and restaurants.

    The next day we watched the changing of the guard at the Queen's palace and took a canal boat tour. This was the best way to see all the fascinating architecture if you only have a short time in Copenhagen. It takes you past all the sights, including the Little Mermaid and the former residence of Hans Christian Anderson. The Danish stock exchange building was the most interesting. The spire was made up of the intertwined tails of dragons.

    We lunched at Cafe Sorgenfrei. This place is always packed, but our Danish friend managed to make reservations for all of us. Traditional Danish fare consisting of herring, a kind of meatloaf, cabbage, shrimp and a lot of other things which I can't remember anymore. They bring platters of many types of food to the table and there are stands which elevate the platter so everyone can reach it. And, of course, aquavit (water of life), made from potatoes and flavored with caraway.

    The next day we traveled by train to Nykobing for a 25th anniversary party: the real reason we were in Denmark in the first place. What a privilege to be let in on such a special event. The Danes take their life milestones very seriously. They are steeped in tradition. The friends of the couple construct and decorate an archway with their names on it and spray paint their shoes silver (for the 25th) and put them at the base. At the formal dinner friends and family take turns standing and speaking to the couple directly, followed by a toast. People might share a song (their little granddaughter sang) or recite a poem for them. It was a long evening that began with dinner followed by dancing and a midnight buffet. I was impressed by how courteous everyone was. As the evening began each person that entered the room made the rounds and greeted and/or introduced themselves to everyone else already there. They made sure to say goodbye to everyone as they left as well. Also, we learned when toasting with people it is important to make eye contact with them as you lift your glass (you don't "clink").

    We fell exhausted into our beds. The next morning everyone met again for a breakfast. Later that day, we caught the train for the Copenhagen airport. Next up: France.

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    We arrived in Paris from Copenhagen later that night. I had booked a cheap inter-Europe flight on SAS. It was about $120 one way. That was cheaper and much faster than if we had tried to do the train. We were proceeding on to Arcachon in the south of France where we had rented an apartment for a week. I had agonized over how to get to Arcachon: there was no train that late. Should we pay for a hotel for one night only to leave in the morning, or should we rent a car and drive through the night to get to our destination where our accomodations were already paid for? We opted to drive through the night. We picked up our rental car at the airport through Europcar. We got a Volkswagen Passat, which was like a station wagon. Yay! There were three of us with LOTS of luggage, so we had plenty of room. We had brought a GPS from home, which proved to be a huge help getting around.

    Once we got out of the city (which took awhile) we were thirsty and famished, so I'm ashamed to say our first meal in France - the land of the best food on the planet - was at McDonalds. The route down to Arcachon was on toll roads but very easy to drive. Kudos to my husband, who was our chauffeur, for staying awake. My girlfriend and I kept falling asleep out of exhaustion. We arrived at our apartment at 4:30 in the morning and slept well into the day.

    I had found the apartment through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner). It was a two bedroom unit on the top floor of the building. The balconies provided us with a view of the surrounding area and we enjoyed our first breakfast there. The apartment owner (an American who lives in Toledo, Ohio) also supplied free internet, a laptop, free calling anywhere in the world and bikes for us to ride. The rental was only $700 for the week.

    We loved Arcachon! It's a resort town right on the Atlantic ocean. There is a boardwalk where you can ride your bike along the water for miles and miles. There are fabulous restaurants and shops. And the architecture is some of the most interesting I've seen. Each home has a name plaque on the front. We all fell in love with the area and purposed to return in the future for a longer vacation. We visited the grocery store to stock up on food for the week. I brought home speckled quail eggs (quail eggs at the supermarket!), lovely cheeses, chocolate croissants, beautiful lunch meats. I was in heaven. Later in the week we visited the farmer's market next to the train station, which was foodie heaven.

    The area is known for its oyster farms, so we headed to the port for a visit. The water's edge is lined with the colorful shacks of different commercial oyster purveyors. There are several shacks where you can sit down and taste the oysters, which we did. The owner served us a dozen freshly shucked oysters, bread and glasses of wine for a grand total of about $12. What a great experience! Later that evening we had dinner at Le Cabestan. Wow. One of the highlights of our dining experiences on this trip. It was just around the corner from our apartment. If I lived there this would be a weekly visit. Fresh food, great service and reasonably priced.

    The following day we visited the Dune du Pilat, the biggest sand dune in Europe at 100 to 117 meters high. This is where we made a fatal mistake that would color the rest of our trip. There is a gated parking lot at this popular tourist attraction where we parked, locked the car and started for the dune. We took the steep stairway all the way to the top for a fabulous view of the ocean and surrounding area. It was windy and we got a free facial in the process. It is definitely worth the visit.

    When we got back to the car, we were standing there chatting and as I glanced at our vehicle I noted, incredulously, that our back window was smashed. I could hardly believe my eyes. First I thought we were at the wrong car, and slowly it began to sink in that we had been robbed. I can't describe the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I remembered the conversation we had when we left the car, whether we should take our backpacks and purses on the climb. We had opted to leave them stashed under the seats. The realization sunk in that we had stupidly left all our money, passports, credit cards and cell phones in the car and now all were gone. We only had what my husband had in his wallet. I am so embarrassed to write this and I am only doing it so that others might not make the same mistake.

    Our next stop was NOT a tourist attraction: the police station. I was so grateful to have my French speaking friend along! It took hours and hours to fill out police reports and call credit card companies to cancel the cards and try to make arrangements for more money. Thank God we were in an apartment with internet and free phone calls! I can't imagine trying to use public pay phones during this process. But what an eye-opener. Each of the credit card companies were so "sorry" about what had happened to us. My Mastercard company promised to wire me money to the local Western Union. They also took the address of our next location, a hotel in Paris, so they could send me an emergency card. That was lovely, EXCEPT the money did not arrive at Western Union, nor did the card arrive at the hotel in Paris. When I called back, they were very apologetic again, but could not tell me when or where the card had been sent or why I couldn't get the money at Western Union. I can't tell you how frustrating this all was. Then I called the US Consulate in Bordeaux and in Paris to find out what to do about our passports. I got only recordings, even when you push the option for emergencies. I realize now in retrospect that a stolen passport is not an emergency for them, but it certainly was for us at the time. I did finally get a call back from the Bordeaux consulate. We had to go to Paris to get replacement passports. Luckily we were headed there anyway the next day.

    Up next: Paris

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    We were checking out the next day and had one night to fill before our reservations in Paris. I am a copious advance planner, but we had deliberately left this one day open for a last minute decision. We wanted something to break up the long drive to Paris. We decided we were in the mood for a castle and started researching on the computer which castles were on our way to Paris. We finally decided on Chenonceaux and started looking for accomodations in the area. We found the most picturesque and delightful inn, called Le Bon Laboureur, which was a ten minute walk from the castle. It even had a one Michelin star restaurant on the premises. Luckily they took American Express, which was the one credit card we had left that had not been stolen. It was in my husbands name only and I didn't have to cancel that one.

    We drove about three and a half hours to get there. The Loire Valley enchanted us. Every turn in the road produced picture worthy vistas. Le Bon Laboureur did not disappoint. The service was impeccable the premises were charming. That evening we dined in the restaurant. Our second best dining experience of the trip. They two different prix fixe menus. We chose the cheaper of the two: 48Euros for four courses (which was really 6 courses, including the amuse bouche and palate cleanser). Each dish as it came was perfect and sublime. It was the perfect antidote to our horrible experience of the last few days. As my girlfriend said: "We suffer well."

    The next morning we walked over to Chenonceaux. They did't take American Express. (This was a foreshadowing of the problem we were to encounter in the next days. Very few places accepted American Express.) We needed to conserve the few euros we had left for tolls and incidentals in the next days. But we just couldn't leave without seeing the castle, so we paid the 10 euros each in cash. What a gorgeous place it was! I couldn't stop taking photos. The fresh flower arrangements in each of the rooms were breathtaking. It made me want to do a castle tour of France.

    We were nervous that the gas station wouldn't accept our American Express card, but the Total station near the inn did accept it and we were on our way. This was my third visit to Paris and each visit I love it more. We had opted for the Hotel Muguet in the 7th. It was a modest accomodation within our price range. Extremely small rooms, as is the norm, but adequate. Scratchy blanket and lumpy, tiny pillows I did not appreciate. But the rest of the hotel was OK. The location was good, as Rue Cler was a five minute walk and the Eiffel Tower a 15 minute walk.

    After arrival and check-in we began our quest for a restaurant that would accept American Express: not an easy task. I canvassed almost all the restaurants on Rue Cler and only found one: Cafe Central. So that is where we had an al fresco dinner. It was surprisingly good. My husband loves creme brulee and they made an excellent one. I wanted to walk to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up at night and dragged my companions with me. They were tired, but the fatigue vanished when we stood under the brilliantly lit tower. Then suddenly all the lights started flashing. At that very moment I noticed a couple nearby. The young man was on bended knee in front of his girlfriend. He extended a small box to her and the next moment she flew into his arms and they kissed and hugged for a long time. Later I observed what looked to be his or her parents photographing them with the tower in the background.

    Next: Paris, day two

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    OK, this might be Paris day two and three. I can't remember what we did on each of those days - it's all a jumble. I could just wander around in Paris for weeks and never get bored. We took the Metro to Notre Dame and just happened to be there in time for their evensong service, so we took our seats near the front and participated in the service, trying to sing the hymns in french. The incense produced an otherworldly fog around us. A wonderful young cantor's tenor voice echoed to the rafters. My friend translated some of the liturgy for me and it was very beautiful and worshipful. It was such a different experience from just walking around looking at the statues. We seem to be very lucky at falling into the right place at the right times!

    From Notre Dame we walked to Ile Saint Louis and salivated at all the wonderful shops and things we could be buying IF we only had money! Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise we couldn't purchase anything. My girlfriend did buy one ice cream cone from Berthillon. I know it's reputed to be the best ice cream ever, but she got the most miniscule scoop of ice cream for what amounted to $4! She did say it was amazing. I didn't take a taste, because there would have been none left for her!

    We

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    I am so sorry for you. I hope that no smart ass will post here about a lesson learned. I know the dune of Pyla and climbing it with a backback IS a torture. You can be as careful as possible - someday it will happen. Be glad that it was "just" some money, credit cards and passports.

    I am glad that you otherwise enjoyed your trip to Europe and that you had the chance to get some authentic experiences with some natives. Do not let the unlucky experience spoil your memories and come back some time!

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    (continued from above) We had lunch that day at Le Florimond, a restaurant that has been highly recommended by Joan Grace, who posts here often about Paris, and by many others. They were not wrong. Not to exaggerate, but this may be my favorite place to eat in the entire world :-) They were completely full when we got there but a table soon opened up and we were seated. The menu was fresh and inventive and every bite was sublime. Better yet, the price was extremely reasonable for the quality of the food. Even better was the owner Laurent, who bustled about making sure everything was perfect. I had introduced myself to him at the beginning of our meal and he remembered our names and used them frequently, calling me "Mar - ga - ret!" He was so genuinely warm that you had the feeling of being a guest in someone's home and you wanted to hang around all afternoon. I've been married for 39 years and this was the first time I heard my husband say, "let's come back again for dinner". He is easy going but not easily impressed. We asked Laurent, who was pleased we wanted to come back the same day, but initially I could see he was thinking how he could fit us in. He smiled and said "of course!" When we got there that night I just knew he squeezed in one more small table because the place was packed.

    The atmosphere was warm and convivial. I have learned from my own party giving that the more crowded it is, the more fun people have. There is no room for shyness when you are elbow to elbow. Everyone in the room was friendly with one another. Laurent was bustling about making sure everyone was taken care of, with the help of his one waitstaff, Benedette. Pascal, the co-owner and chef was in the kitchen. Laurent said he would be out later to meet us.

    Once again the fixed price menu was sublime. We relaxed, took our time and savored every bite. At 10:30 Pascal came out of the kitchen and came to every table to greet the guests. He was so pleased to hear we had been there twice in one day. Later, when we rose to leave, Laurent called to Benedette and Pascal to come over and say goodbye to us. We received hugs and two-cheek kisses from each of them along with their well wishes for our journey home. I've never experience that in a restaurant before. What an extraordinary experience!

    Our last day was a Tuesday. This was my third trip to Paris and I had never had the chance to visit the Louvre. Alas, they were closed on Tuesdays. Instead, we went to the Rodin gardens and museums. What a happy choice that was. It was so nice to be outside in the gorgeous gardens which were filled with Rodin's sculptures, not the least of which is the famous "Thinker" with the Eiffel Tower and Invalides in the background. The museum was good too, but I'd be content to spend one euro and just go to the gardens every day.

    That evening we did some last minute souvenir shopping on Ile Saint Louis. We found out that there were more shops here that accepted American Express than in the Rue Cler area. I was told not too many places took that credit card because they charged more fees. We were considering two places for dinner: Le Caveau de L'Isle, which looked very charming with its open windows to the street, and a place which had been recommended to us by friends, Nos Ancetres le Galois. We checked out Nos Ancetres but in the end chose Le Caveau. The food was just OK. The decor and setting was nice however. Nothing could compare to our experience at Le Florimond.

    After dinner, again our timing was perfect as we strolled over the bridge and the sun was just setting behind Notre Dame. We took the stairs down to the Seine and strolled at the water's edge. We were not alone in appreciating the ambiance. Students, lovers, old couples were sitting at the water's edge with drinks and picnic dinners while the strains of a lone saxophone wafted through the air. Bateaux Mouches drifted by, some packed with crowds of people, others were more elegant with individual dining tables and flickering candles. As the color of the sky turned pink and then purple and the silhouette of Notre Dame darkened I wished we could spend another week in Paris. Alas, we had to leave in the morning. I know there is another trip to Paris in my future. Maybe next time I will make it to the Louvre!

    If you have read all of this, I congratulate you! And if you are a glutton for punishment, here is a direct link to my photo album on Picasa:
    http://picasaweb.google.com/maggiwun/GermanyDenmarkAndFrance2009Favorites?feat=directlink

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    Thanks for the kind words, traveler. It was stupid, I know that for sure, but as you said that one incident is not going to spoil the memory of some fantastic experiences.

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    Great report. Sorry about your mishap. I'll now have to try Le Florimand. Is it in the 7th? I just bought a ticket to Paris for August. I was just there, last month, and usually go in the spring, but not summer. But, I need to take care of some things up in Copenhagen and since my flight is routed through Paris, why not?

    Traveller1959-Cracked up laughing at your second sentence comment. But, how true. Smiles. Happy Travels!

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    Guenmai, Le Florimond is at: 19 ave Motte Piquet 7th arr., Tel - 01 45 55 40 38. I would recommend reservations, as they are almost always full. I appreciate the kind remarks, taconictraveler.

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    An interesting sidenote: I asked Laurent how he chose the name Le Florimond. He told me it was the name of a gardener employed by Claude Monet at Giverny, one of my favorite places in France.

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    I'm so sorry to read about the smashed window and all the valuable things stolen. I think you were the one asking for phone #s for CC companies? I'm glad that you were still able to enjoy the rest of your trip. Thanks for posting.

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    Great report! Despite your trouble, your trip sounds like you had a ball. I'm glad you didn't let it spoil your time in France. I only hope that I could feel that way if it should happen to me.

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    I didn't write about our experience at the U.S.Embassy - that was a lesson in patience. We waited approx four hours for our replacement emergency passports. At the end of the process, while trying to pay $100 each, they also did not take American Express! We had to rob Peter to pay Paul to scrounge up every last dollar and Euro so we could get the passports. Yes, that was me trying to figure out how to call the 800 numbers for the credit card companies. I couldn't get the international numbers listed on the websites to work.
    We had a marvelous time on our trip, despite the robbery.

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    Maggi,

    You have had a trip to remember..for all kinds of reasons!!

    Glad I introduced you to Le Florimond. It has beena favorite of locals for a long time. I made eservations for the 3 gals from NJ last Oct. The did enjoy, too. Good to hear you did stop by and say hello to Florent in his little place when you checked out the Duquesne..

    Joan

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    Joan, I regret we couldn't visit your other recommendations. I particularly wanted to visit one of the Constant restaurants. LeFlorimond was such a hit with us, I can't be sorry!

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