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The Epic Road Trip

June 15, 2015

My parents came to visit us for about three weeks from the middle of May to the beginning of June.  There was a very large conference happening in Dubrovnik at the end of May and I was interested in going down to meet some people in my industry.  It seemed a shame to simply fly down to Dubrovnik and back since, if you look on a map there are a lot of interesting places to see on the way there.  So, a plan was hatched to drive from Dresden down to Dubrovnik, hop on a ferry to Italy, then drive north back to Dresden.  3,500 kilometers (2150 miles), seven countries, twelve cities, all in ten days.  It was ambitious, to say the least.

But first we had to go get my parents from Berlin!  So, we took the bus up to Berlin and met up with them after their long flight.  We had all been to Berlin before, so we didn’t do a ton of touristy stuff.  We did go to the Tor, and the Holocaust memorial, and then Alexandra and I insisted on getting something we had been missing desperately: authentic Sichuan food.  It was incredibly delicious.  After a pleasant day in Berlin we hopped on the train to Dresden.

The next morning was my birthday!  So we had a nice brunch and then went for a walk around town to see the sights of Dresden.  In the evening we went to my favorite brewery where there is a great view of the Elbe River and on Sundays the serve Maß, which is beer by the liter.

For the next week, while Alexandra went back to work, I toured the areas around Dresden with my parents: the highlight was the town of Meißen, famous for their porcelain and the beautiful church on a tall hill overlooking the Elbe.

On Friday we set out for Prague, the first stop on our epic road trip.  For me, there was really only one important thing to do in Prague.  Go to the best butcher in town.  This butcher is special because you can not only buy meat to bring home, you can select a steak and have them cook it up for you right then and there for an extra $3!  They also have a great house wine and a wall tap for beer, where you pay for a glass and can refill it to your hearts content.  I think I could live in this butcher’s shop!  After that epic lunch checked off my list we made a quick sightseeing tour of Prague.  In the afternoon we hopped back in the car and headed south to the city of Brno, where we stayed at an old palace for the night and enjoyed an amazing Czech dinner involving an absolutely comical amount of food and drinks.  I really recommend getting smoked ribs in the Czech Republic, both times I’ve had them they have been excellent!

Saturday we had a short drive to Vienna.  Unfortunately it was a drizzly day, however, Vienna is such a beautiful and impressive place none of us minded too terribly.  The contrast between Prague and Vienna is pretty amazing.  Prague is a city of narrow streets, surprising beauty, and teeming with life.  Vienna is a city that has clearly been planned.  You approach the buildings and can take them in along wide avenues.

After a day of museums, pastries, and of course, Viennese schnitzel, we headed on to Graz where we all were so sufficiently tired that we did nothing but fall asleep.

We had planned to tour Graz a bit, initially, but these plans were changed as we started reading about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.  So, with the last-minute decision made, we hopped in the car bright and early and left Austria behind, blew through Slovenia without really stopping and made a bee-line for Plitvice Lakes.  What we found was well worth the trip.  The park is centered around a series of cascading lakes with waterfalls in between.  The water flows through massive limestone formations where it becomes saturated with calcium, which is then deposited and forms lips at the edges of each lakes, causing wide, astonishing waterfalls to form.  We took a bus up to the very top lake and started walking down the 5 km trail back.  The trails weren’t really trails, but an endless series of wooden walkways sometimes inches above the water.  The sights were like something out of a fairy tale – it was hard to believe what you were seeing.

And then it started raining.

Some places, rain would really ruin the experience, but Plitvice is not one of these places. There, when it starts pouring rain, you can almost forget that anything exists outside of this endless world of wooden walkways and crystal clear pools strung together by beautiful waterfalls.

Water started running down the hillsides, creating more waterfalls, the water levels rose even higher and soon some of the walkways were basically submerged.  We all got thoroughly soaked inside and out (despite umbrellas) but we had an unforgettable day.

After our watery hike, we drove another hour down to the coast to our hotel in a tiny sea-side village near Split.  The GPS wasn’t sure how to get there, so that Alexandra got us flawlessly to within about 200 meters of the hotel when we were suddenly faced with a choice between a one-way road, a car coming down a tiny road to our right and a tiny alleyway off to one side.  Choosing the tiny alleyway (it was so narrow we had to pull the mirrors in), we made it about 100 yards before being stopped by another car was coming the other way.  Some extremely patient and friendly locals helped us back down the tiny alley and the mayor of the village hopped in his car and showed us the way to the hotel right on the water.  Alexandra snapped some photos as the sun set and we checked in to some very interesting/thematic rooms.  We enjoyed a dinner at the hotel, then went to sleep after a long but interesting day.

Next morning, we drove into Split where we saw Diocletian’s Palace and the church built out of his mausoleum.  Then, back on the road!  We drove down the coast toward Dubrovnik stopping for some delicious fruit and fermented fruit liquors along the way. We also had to drive through a 10 km piece of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which splits Croatia in two.  But, we couldn’t stop to buy tourist junk, as that would have required a visa, which we definitely did not possess.

On Monday afternoon, we finally arrived in Dubrovnik, where we had rented an apartment and were greeted by our wonderful landlady, who was more than welcoming.  She was great to us and if anyone is in Dubrovnik again let us know!  We spent the next couple days exploring Dubrovnik and the surrounding areas, including a boat ride to a tiny island off the coast, and a car trip to Ston, a small city to the north famous for their ancient wall and delicious mussels.  Finally, Wednesday night we got on a car ferry to take us to Italy….

Alexandra was very amused by the process of driving a car on a boat, and we all had a fun time in our little cabin.  It helped that the ladies took some anti-seasickness meds that made then a little loopy.      The next morning I took a shower on a boat for the first time, which it turns out is just like a shower on land when you are a bit hungover.  Basically, you have to hold on to things and stuff keeps falling down even though you swear you put it on a level surface.  After a quick breakfast snack, we were back in the car and driving off the boat.  So, without much excitement, we suddenly found ourselves in Italy!

We took our time (relatively speaking) driving up the coast of Italy, enjoying a few towns along the way and having some amazing food.  Our destination for the evening was in the hills above Ortona where a very charming and pretty little hotel greeted us (after the owner got back from her siesta and let us in the gates, that is).  After taking our own afternoon siesta, we drove into the wine country to a local place run by an Italian mother and son.  There was no menu, just recommendations for antipasti, primi, and secondi.  We basically ordered the whole menu plus a couple of bottles of wine and enjoyed another delicious meal.  The bill was the most stunning part, at around 45 euros.

The next day we drove through the Marche region of Italy, to the walled city of Urbino.  After a quick tour and another awesome, cheap, lunch,  we headed on to Padua, which is just outside of Venice.

On a stroll through Padua in the evening we found Alexandra’s idea of heaven, a bakery with gigantic, football sized, 1 lb, meringues.

In the morning, we hopped on a train to Venice.  I have to admit, I was skeptical of Venice.  But, having been there, I can definitely see its allure and wouldn’t disagree to going back for a longer visit, as long as it’s not during the peak tourist season.  It really is a maze of tiny alleys and canals that boggles the mind.  I have no clue how you are supposed to navigate this place without a smartphone, it is crazy.  But, really really beautiful and fun.  We had just enough time to hit the highlights (from the outside only), and to grab a a stunningly delicious lunch at a locals’ place on the glass blowing island of Murano, which by Venetian standards was basically free.  We also managed brief but impressive private tour of the Seguso family glass factory (all of this after my mom somehow struck up a conversation with an Italian lady who then invited us to coffee, even though she didn’t speak english and none of us spoke Italian.  Still not sure how that happened).

On the island of Murano, we visited one very special cathedral that’s well off the tourist track.  The entire floor was covered in colorful tile patterns.  Each block of tiles was completely unique.  We took photos of a series of them, which kind of gives you an idea.

After a very fun (and delicious) few days it was time to say goodbye to Italy.  From Padua, we drove north across the Alps to Innsbruck for lunch.  We found a great biergarten right in town, and then did a short tour of the city before heading north into Germany to Munich.

Why, you may wonder, were we in such a hurry to get to Munich?  Well, my old boss had told us about the Deutches Museum – which she said is the  coolest science and industry museum in the world.

And she way right: the museum was amazing!  The multi-story basement is an enormous, nearly km long, mockup of mining throughout time, starting with some of the oldest technologies and moving to the latest in long-wall mining.  Above ground there were full-size ships and submarines, models of dozens of different boats over three floors, an aviation and aerospace area with an impressive array of vehicles including helicopters, gliders, experimental aircraft, cross-sections of various engines and even a V-2 rocket.  There were massive displays on things from glass-making to weaving to printing and even brick making.  This place is an engineer’s paradise 🙂

The Deutsches Museum was a very cool end to a very epic trip. A blog post even this long only really covers about a tenth of it!  What can I say, it was awesome.

 

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