Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Catching Up the Travelogue: March's European Vacation, Part One

Back in mid-March, Beth and I took our first real vacation since our engagement trip way back in December of 2003 (that's right: we hadn't even taken a honeymoon after getting married in 2005!).  We made a lightning visit to friends in Germany and family in Italy, packing the brief week with visits to Munich, Frankfurt, Venice, Vicenza, Verona, Padua, and Soave, along with a drive through the Austrian and Bavarian Alps.

The trip began at Dulles International Airport, my home away from home.  I was happy to finally have an opportunity to drag Beth over to the Lufthansa lounge over in Concourse B; even though we were flying United, as a Star Alliance Gold flyer (thanks to my 100,000 miles a year on United and my 1K status), we can use any Star Alliance Gold lounge--and the Lufthansa lounge at Dulles is 100,000x better than the United Red Carpet Club.  Whereas the latter has a few apples, some prepackaged cheese, individual-serving crackers, and a cash bar, the Lufthansa lounge has a nice selection of hot soup, salads, pasta, hors d'oeuvres, and even cheesecake for dessert.  Plus free beer--good free beer, including a nice Belgian white ale Beth and I enjoyed during our late lunchtime visit.  We did trek back over to Concourse C for our flight and stopped by one of the Red Carpet Clubs, where I accepted the correct number of bar "drink chits" (2 required for anything above the level of Bud Light) from the front desk--this is something frequent flyers grouse about to no end, mind you--and headed down into the dark, crowded, noisy, and hot lounge, where Beth and I couldn't even find two seats.  What a contrast!

As another benefit to making 1K last year on United--I flew several "mileage run" trips with no purpose other than to get the necessary miles!--I'd used my "systemwide upgrades" to book us into business class instead of economy.  The flight attendants all wondered over Beth's "Asian Vegetarian" meal selection (you have to pre-book anything out of the ordinary), which wasn't bad at all and consisted of several different Indian dishes.

The flight crew couldn't get the business class lights to go out overnight (!!), but an Ambien and I slept until breakfast anyway--and found an "apology" $250 certificate on my seat when I woke up for the trouble.  After breakfast, on approach into Munich's airport, I heard the dreaded news on Channel 9 (United's air traffic control broadcasts onboard): "Attention all stations: due to braking coefficient, Munchen Airport is closed."  Yep, snow on the ground had shut down the airport.  And sure enough, once we finally landed, it was indeed snowing in Munich.

Now, we had quite an itinerary planned out for our short six days on the ground: we would drive up to Frankfurt-am-Main to visit Beth's college friend Urusula, then drive down to Italy to spend the rest of the trip with my cousin Michael and his wife, Sam.  And, time permitting, a stop or two in the Bavarian Alps on our drive back to Munich for the flight home.  (Erika and Brooke will probably commiserate over the pace we endured on this trip: my sisters were "victims" of my vacation planning and draconian cracking of the schedule whip on the visit to London we all took in 2002, in which we managed ever single tourist attraction in London plus a trip to Stonehenge and on to Bath.)

The drive up the Autobahn was largely a pleasure, due not to the speeds per se but the fact that people simply knew how to drive!  The roads were largely four lanes--I'd always imagined the Autobahn some 8-12 lane freeway--and drivers used the left lane only to pass and always gave way to faster drivers.  Still, a few construction zones were limited to 2 meter lanes (that's more narrow than a lot of American cars, and white-knuckle driving at 110 km/hr), and after a short redeye flight I was struggling to keep my eyes open toward the end of the nearly-four-hour drive to Frankfurt.

We arrived in Frankfurt in the early afternoon... but that's Part Two of our travelogue (and one loaded with photos, I promise!).

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