We spent a good part of our morning scrolling through TripAdvisor, trying to puzzle out what we wanted to do today. Short of checking out a church that we had spied on the night of our arrival and visiting the famous Hofbräuhaus I wasn’t particularly fussed and so after breakfast we started ambling our way through town. We stopped off at a few sites that took our fancy, taking a few photos and looking things up on the guides we’d pilfered from the hotel. It was then that my wife noticed the free tours that were run daily and we figured they’d be a good way to spend the afternoon. Before then however I wanted to see Munich’s famous beer hall and, of course, indulge myself of their fine produce.
Hofbräuhaus was everything that I thought the Prater Biergarten in Berlin would be, brimming with people and wait staff bustling by the tables with food, pretzels and copious steins of beer. We initially sat outside as there didn’t appear to be any tables available inside but the stiff breeze that came through had us quickly changing our minds. Once we were seated again we tried to catch the eye of several staff, eventually ending up being served by 2 different waiters who couldn’t seem to agree on who’s table it was.
Our lunch, whilst definitely not served with expediency, was definitely the kind of German cuisine I had come to expect from such a place. It was simple food but well done and the accompanying beer was definitely among some of the best I’ve had. Noting the time we finished up our meal quickly before a quick trip through the gift shop for souvenirs and we headed over to Marienplatz to kick off the afternoon tour.
The tour was great, taking us through many of the historic monuments and diving deep into the cultural history of Munich. Our guide was an excitable American who’d been in Munich for some time and spoke with a deep knowledge of the city. He also made recommendations for numerous places to eat and drink, something which would’ve been valuable if we’d had done it earlier. Of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch as this was a tip based tour but, for 3 hours of informative fun, we were more than glad to slip a decent amount of euros his way.
As the Englischer Garten was right by where the tour ended we decided a stroll through there would be a nice way to pass some time before we went back to the Weissbier hall that the guide recommended. Whilst most of the sites he had listed were either closed or basically inaccessible the beer garden in the middle was a nice place for us to take a break. There I imbibed yet another beer before we headed back into town to see if the best weissbier in the world could overcome my disdain for it.
Whilst the Tap no 7 beer couldn’t change my mind on wheat beers the food and brown beer that followed it certainly sold me on the tour guide’s recommendation. At this point with about 2L of beer in me and a relatively early flight to catch the next morning I thought it best if we could retire for the night. We did manage to get back in short order however our friends, whom we’re meeting up with in Rome, wanted to organize a few things before we all arrived. They were a few hours behind us so my wife said we should use this opportunity to satisfy her craving for waffles. It took us some time, the waffle place she found hidden in Munich’s labyrinth of a train station, but we made it back in time to Skype with our friends.
We then all proceeded to navigate the various horrors of Italian tourist sites, trying to book tickets and trains for the following few days. We managed to get everything done eventually but not before losing 2 hours of lives and possibly sending a few more of our hairs grey. Still with it all done the next part of our trip should be a relative breeze…hopefully.
Tomorrow we make our way to Rome by plane, a prospect that’s both comforting and disqueting. Whilst I lamented them initially their convenience and flexibility are something that just doesn’t exist in the airline industry, something which can take much of the worry out of travel. Of course planes still win out over long distances, I don’t think I’d repeat the Berlin to Zurich trip again in a hurry, but anything up to a 4 hour train ride wins out over flying in my books. I’ll remember them, and the lovely views of the European countryside they provided, fondly and can only hope the rest of the flights we catch are as smooth as the trains were before them.
Our flight over to Paris was uneventful and short by comparison to our previous endeavors. When I had arranged everything I knew we were going to be arriving well before check-in was open at our hotel (Holiday Inn Canal De La Villette) but the reviews had said a few people had managed to wrangle their way in early. Alas we were not so lucky and had 3 hours to burn while we waited for our room so we could wash away the previous days travels. I had figured we could just take a short trip into the city’s center and wander around for a bit but my poor wife was in no form to do so.
We followed the canal southward, perusing the various cafes and restaurants as we went. I was a little taken aback by how similar all the menus seemed to be, all offering the same variation of a couple dishes. Turns out this must just be the street menu as when we finally decided on a place their offerings were far more wide and varied. I settled on duck with a pepper sauce accompanied by potatoes covered in bacon. A decadent meal, to be sure, but its simple composition is something that I really did appreciate.
Full from lunch we waddled our way back to the hotel, only managing to kill a couple hours. My wife decided it was nap time and used my legs as a pillow whilst I continued reading my book and playing a few games on my phone to pass the time. We were eventually allowed up into our room, a balcony suite on the top floor, and we both quickly made a beeline for the shower. My wife then collapsed on the bed where we inadvertently spent the next few hours, something that won’t do us any favors jet lag wise.
We then started to plan our activities for the coming days only to find that trying to book things this close is something of a fool’s errand. Now this may be because we’re here during the middle of the Euro 2016, something which I (in my usual fashion of not following sports at all) had neglected to account for. So instead we’ve settled on something of a priority system: go early to the things we really want to do and then do others if we’re able. This has us settling on doing the catacombs in the morning, the Louvre right after and then seeing what the lines are like over at the Eiffel Tower. Whether we make that all or not is a question I’ll answer tomorrow.
My first impressions of Paris are much like that of Montreal, although without the dichotomy of new and old in such stark contrast. It is interesting to note the cycle of the city is different to what I’m used to, the ebbs and flows of everything happening well after I’d expect them too. We’re towards the outer rim of the city so I’m sure it will be much more frenetic when we finally make the journey to the center tomorrow morning. I’m hopeful that we’ll get to do all the things we’ve planned tomorrow, even though we haven’t been able to secure our spots ahead of time.
We almost immediately fell back into our old habits again, trying to plan as much as we could in the short time we have here. Whilst I certainly want to make the most of this trip the last thing I want to do is burn myself out on planning before it even starts. I’ll have to keep an eye on that.
There was only a dim glow peeking through the curtains but it was lacking that distinct orange tint to it that I’d grown to expect. Throwing them back revealed a threatening looking sky with the overcast clouds merging into the smog in an eerily smooth gradient. It seems that the cross country flight had done some magic on our body clocks and we were up early again giving us some time to plan for the day ahead. We’d planned to go to Universal Studios today and decided to stick with that plan even with the foreboding weather. I also made a quick check to make sure that the server had come good after Danne kicked it over for me, thankful that it came around. I uploaded the 3 posts I had sitting in my queue before heading off, taking our laundry with us so we could get it done on the way home.
Dialling in the address into the GPS we drove the 10 miles to North Hollywood arriving into a strangely quiet strip of shops. We started walking around looking for somewhere to have breakfast and found a decent cafe about halfway down. The weather had was holding up and without my Internet connection on my phone working (again!) we decided to just go ahead and go into the park, figuring that it would could still visit most of the park even if it was pouring with rain.
There were a few people at the entrance to Universal Studios but it still felt almost deserted. It is the off season but that didn’t seem to have a damper on the numbers when we were at Dinseyland so we figured we had just gotten lucky. We made our way through one of the exhibits in the top lot before taking the multiple escalators to the bottom lot which was even more deserted than the top. That worked in our favour though with virtually no line for all the rides down there, letting us zip through the entire section in about half an hour. The rides were pretty good with their scale being extremely impressive. I can’t remember the last time I rode a rollercoaster that was entirely indoors (I think it might’ve been space mountain in Disneyworld in Tokyo where I hit my hand on a low flying pole).
After that we headed back up to the top lot to see some of the other shows they had going on. There were no less than 3 3D movies with all sorts of various augmentations. The most extravagant one was the Terminator with oodles of pyrotechnics and a cast of 3 people jumping in and out of various places all over the place. There were also a couple live shows that we saw the best of which was the Waterworld one. Now I’ll be honest here I was only going to go to it initially because there was a fated summer holiday where my brother and I watched that movie nearly every day. However the show itself was quite amazing with a smattering of watercraft, acrobatics and explosions all over the place. After we got out our last show at around 4:30pm everything was winding down so we headed out to find ourselves some early dinner before heading out to see a movie.
We found this amazing little Japanese place just up from where we had had lunch earlier. I ordered the tonkatsu with a Japanese beer I had never seen before: Echigo. We had just less than an hour so I was glad when our meal was served quickly and even happier still when it was quite good, especially for the price. Satisfied with our meal we went to see our movie for the night, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1. 2 and a half hours later we emerged from the movie, both happy with the experience. I’d recommend the movie to anyone who’s enjoyed the previous releases in this particular series, I won’t comment on those who’ve read the books however (I haven’t).
Afterwards I found us a coin operated laundry not too far from we were so we headed over there to get ourselves some clean clothes to wear. After loading up the machine we sat down to watch what they had on the TVs around the place, mostly bad reality TV shows and overdone mexican dramas. About an hour later we were done and out of there, driving back through the rain that had finally started to come down. We got back to the hotel safely and flopped down on our bed, weary from the long day we had had. I’m not sure what we’ll be doing tomorrow but it will either be a visit to Legoland or back to Disneyland but really I could easily spend a day off my feet to let them rest. I don’t think I’ve walked less than 8KMs per day over the past 2 weeks.
Right until I opened the curtains I would’ve sworn that it was still the middle of the night. Whilst we hadn’t partied particularly hard the night before we’d been lazing around in bed for a good few hours before we made those dreaded first few steps out of our comfortable little abode. It was still overcast and the rain from the previous day put a chill on the wind that seemed to cut through any layer of clothing. The side benefit was that you couldn’t be anything but awake when you were outside making us even more determined to get to our goal: Laura’s favourite place for brunch.
We arrived there not 10 minutes later and instantly I was struck with the similarity to the restaurant we had dined at the night before. There were lines of booths all the way up and down the restaurant with only a smattering of tables to cater to the couples and those dining alone. We were seated and given menus that could’ve been short novels with the selection being extremely vast and ready to cater to any taste. I selected myself some eggs benedict with salmon which also came with a side serve of fruit and house potatoes (mashed with a bit of garlic in them). The girls ordered similar and not 10 minutes later did we have our meals. They were quite large and I struggled to get through most of it, remarking on how over the last 2 weeks my usual rule of “If you pay for it, you gotta eat it all” had been promptly thrown out the window. I just didn’t have the urge to make myself at every meal.
After satisfying ourselves there Laura had some things to attend to so Rebecca and I retired to the hotel room. Whilst we spent the first hour or so trying to find things to do for when Laura goes back to work we soon became listless as our bodies struggled to absorb the massive meal. The next few hours were spent lazily watching the TV, waiting for the message to come through. During brunch Laura had mentioned that I had to try poutine (as any Canadian will suggest) but from this one particular place. I likened it to Chicken Gourmet back in Canberra, it was the place that everyone went after a good night on the piss and needed something to satisfy that early morning hunger. It wasn’t too far from where we were and not a couple minutes after arriving there did I have my prize:
This was the real deal with chips, gravy and cheese curds not just shredded cheese. You can tell curds are fresh by when they squeak against your teeth when you eat them and these were definitely fresh. I think I disappointed Laura though as my reaction was more like “That’s tasty” rather than “OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE I HAVE BEEN MISSING THIS ALL MY LIFE”. I’d definitely eat it again but I’m not about to be as obsessed about it as these Canadians are.
Rebecca and Laura had planned a night out at a spa with one of Laura’s workmates and for me they had planned a bro date with Marc. Since I had hit it off with him last night I wasn’t dreading it like I do with other forced social interactions. I fired off a message to him but didn’t receive a reply. Adding in the country code and sending it again I still got no response. Frustrated I called him and finally got an answer from him. He had responded but it just hadn’t come through, but phone calls seemed to work well enough. After figuring out where the hell I was he came around and picked me up. Tonight we were going to hit up a local micro brewery called Bieres Brasseurs which we had walked past the night before.
The place was packed as a hockey game was on but they still managed to seat us down the back. We ordered our first round of beers (he a wheat beer and I an amber ale) and food from the bilingual waiter and got into a good conversation. The next few hours saw us make our way through the beer menu whilst the crowd roared when the home team scored, ringing what sounded like a massive cow bell. The time went by quickly and after finding out that the girls wouldn’t be joining us after their night at the spa we decided to call it a night with Marc dropping me back off at the hotel.
The night reaffirmed the idea I had the night before that whilst travelling to new places is always interesting it’s the people that really make it worthwhile. We’ll be spending the next few days getting taken around the heart of Montreal and I can’t wait to get more acquainted with it. My walking tour of Miami had been great fun but it still lacked the human element to really bring the place alive, so I’ve got high hopes for doing the same with a local by my side.
I didn’t really have anything planned for today, a first for me in this holiday. I usually try to plan at least one thing to do so I don’t spend the whole day in the hotel rotting my brain with TV and bad food. Still I wasn’t in any hurry to plan anything so I decided I’d finally hit up the cafe on the 15th floor for breakfast. The food there was so-so and the coffee was utterly terrible but the view was nice so I slowly made my way through it whilst looking over my Twitter feed. About 10 minutes later I read this tweet which told me that STS-133 would be taking off no sooner than Tuesday next week. As I’d be leaving on Wednesday I immediately flew into a panic knowing that my chances of seeing a shuttle launch were now resting on a hair trigger.
I rushed back to my room and waited patiently for the press conference to start. As it unfolded it became clear that whilst the shuttle had been delayed by one day they were confident that it shouldn’t be delayed any further than that putting the launch time at around 4pm on Tuesday. Relieved I set about finding something to do and over breakfast I had read my good mate (and recently returned blogger)’s post on his recent travels to China. Based on the fact that I had planned anything nor could I be bothered to try and eek something out I took a leaf from his book and decided to just get lost in the town that I was in, taking my camera along for the ride with me.
It was an eye opening experience.
Striding out of the hotel I decided I should go the way I hadn’t really looked at yet, south as far as I could tell. I walked for a little while doing the annoying tourist thing of taking pictures of all the pretty buildings but no less than 30 minutes later did I come across what amounted to a small tropical rainforest, right in the heart of Miami:
Whilst there was little wildlife to speak of (apart from spiders that stretched their webs across every fricking pathway) there were a myriad of different tropical trees, ferns, grasses and other plants that coated this area. Right in the middle of it you’d have trouble remembering that you were in the middle of a metropolis as the dense forest blocked out any sounds of the outside. I spent a good half hour in there just wandering around, well worth the price of admission (free!).
After that I started walking around outside again taking some more pictures of pretty buildings, including one that strangely resembled the dream home I have been building up in my head over the past couple years. It was still well above 30 and 80% humidity so I was quickly becoming dehydrated. Stumbling around I couldn’t find anywhere that was selling bottled water so I made a trek back to my hotel room to cool off and get hydrated again. Once I had done that I thought I’d go and explore the other direction to see what I could dredge up. Realistically I was just going to walk along the shoreline to see if there were any cool shops but what I ended up finding was the Miami outdoor market.
It wasn’t anything special in its own right but it completely blew me away that I had driven past this very spot, twice, and failed to notice it. After purveying the local merchandise I thought I’d grab some lunch. Being a picky bugger I spent the next hour trying to find something finally settling on this place called The Knife which did steaks like Maccas does burgers. I had me a sirloin steak with mashed potatoes and vegetables all for $13. It kind of upset me that that meal was as good if not better than the $40 dinner I had the night before.
Thinking that I had lucked out thus far by just walking randomly I gave it a go again, heading west away from the markets towards what looked like some kind of business centre. On the way I passed the bike rack for an upcoming triathlon with around 500 competitors either bringing their bikes in or getting them repaired at the nearby tents. Off in the distance I spotted a building that looked rather out of place. It was tall but the architecture was nothing like the buildings that surrounded it, I went in for a closer look.
Turns out it’s the high courts of Miami, nothing as amazing as I had made it out to be in my head. Still thanks to the birds circling it and the deliciously climbable exterior I had one of my “Assassin’s Creed” moments where I imagined climbing it and then diving off the side into a bale of hay. With all the lawyers and police present though I didn’t get much closer than the other side of the road, but that didn’t stop me ogling it until it faded from view.
After wandering around for a bit more I headed back to the hotel to workout and then get ready for dinner. I had hunted down a sushi place through Yelp about a 10 minute walk from me. The reviews were good and it wasn’t too pricey so I thought it would be a nice place to have my last dinner here in Miami. The restaurant was well decked out with a giant waterfall feature piece right in the centre of it. The only thing that out did it was the food and the way it was present. Check out how I got my sushi and sashimi combo:
Yeah that’s right, it’s a freaking BOAT! 😀 The sushi itself wasn’t bad either and the wasabi was some of the most potent I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve been to Japan. They also had a good selection of Japanese beers from which I selected a Kirin Ichiban. I’ve had this particular beer before but this one was a little different to those I’ve had back in Australia. Similar nose and mouthfeel but there was a distinct aftertaste that I don’t remember from the Australian version. I may just have to get me some more to compare 😉
Tomorrow I’m making the trek back up to Orlando in order to get ready for the Shuttle launch. I had planned it so I got settled one night and then headed out to see the launch the next day but that won’t be happening now. Fortunately I’ve heard that there might be an air show on so that might replace fill the time that I had originally planned to spend gawking at the shuttle but I’ve had trouble finding info on it. Anyway failing that I’ll just do what I did today in Orlando as it has served me so well today that I’m very keen to repeat the experiment.
4. That’s the number of times I hit the snooze button this morning. The bed in the hotel was so beautifully comfortable that the prospect of leaving it was more than I was willing to bear. Still I had set the alarm for a reason: I had an important task to accomplish today and it had a start time, 10:00am. The alarm dutifully went off at 9am but was slammed into silence multiple times so that I could enjoy just a few more sweet moments sprawled out under the covers. The enormity of the task I had set myself soon began to weigh on me however and I pulled myself out of bed to get ready for this monumental task.
I was going to pick up my first American rental car.
Usually this wouldn’t be much of a big deal but since I’d never driven a car in a country that drives on the wrong side of the road (even though the majority of the world does so) I was on tenterhooks as to how I would cope with it. I tried to soothe myself with some facts like the one that many countries have completely switched from one side to the other with no ill effects, even on the day of the switch. Still those first few moments when I sat in my shiny red Toyota Yaris had me scrambling to figure out which way was up, with blinkers and window wipers going crazy as I tried to gain control over my 68hp beast.
The following couple hours of driving were strikingly uneventful as I drove towards my chosen destination the Florida mall. This was due, in whole, to the fact that I got completely and hopelessly lost for those two hours. It wasn’t for the fact I didn’t know where I was going, I had looked it up before I went. No it was more due to the fact that I had no idea how to interpret 90% of the road signs and missing the other 10%. Thanks to the plentiful McDonalds restaurants that spotted the highway I was able to purloin free wifi Internet to help guide me on my way to the Florida Mall. I arrived there around lunch time and set about hunting down the places I could do the following things:
The first task was relatively easy, despite my tendency to be completely disinterested in most fast food. I eventually found a place that had a decent chicken salad and a juice bar that served up a mean fruit cocktail. Once I was flush with energy from consuming all that I went onto a shoe store called Sketches which I had seen multiple times before in other places. I managed to find two pairs of shoes that I thought were pretty decent and they had a sale going on so I grabbed both of them:
Getting my online self mobile proved to be a little more difficult however. After searching most of the store I couldn’t find anyone that sold AT&T, the only cell provider I knew would support my iPhone with 3G. As it turns out Radioshack stocks them so I hunted down one of their resellers. I had done some research prior to leaving that said all I needed to do was to buy the cheapest handset I could find and then rip the sim out of it and stick it in my phone. It made sense to this former phone salesman so I scored myself a brand new Samsung A107 for a cool $20 (including $15 credit), plus another $15 for credit (required for activation, apparently). After spending 10 minutes with the salesman getting it activated I headed off for the trip back home. On the way I, of course, got myself lost and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to switch out the sim and get the maps working.
As it turns out not only are the phones locked to the AT&T network they also lock the sim to the phone itself. After wrangling with my iPhone to get the new sim in it greeted me with a No Service error and refused to work. That, my friends, was $40 down the toilet and a couple quick Google searches confirmed that AT&T had been doing this for about a year. So much for that plan then. I’m not sure if I’ll bother trying to get an American sim now, it might just be worth grabbing a cheap-o GPS unit like my friend Nick did on his jaunt over a couple months back. That’s basically all I’d need it for anyway (and my next car apparently comes with one for free).
After dealing with my fail I managed to get myself back to the hotel and worked off the aggression with a good workout. I then had dinner at one of the local restaurants where the food was palatable, but nothing to write home about. I took this opportunity to sample one of the local beers, this one being a Sam Adams Octoberfest:
It was a decent brew, easily comparable to some of the more premium Australian lagers. I’ve become more of an Ale man over the past couple years of refining my beer palate so there wasn’t much to write home about this one but it was a decent accompaniment to my meal of skewered beef and roasted vegetables. Hopefully I’ll be able to indulge my inner beer fanatic a bit more when I’m down in Miami as I’ve read that there are some very good restaurants down there.
Casting off the exhaustion of yesterday was a good feeling and whilst my day was filled with fail it still felt good to get out and about around Florida. Tomorrow the real fun begins as I say goodbye to my plucky Yaris and trade up for a more manly set of wheels: a Z06 Corvette. I’ll also be upgrading my hotel from the Hyatt Regency to the Viceroy in Miami and by all accounts it looks to be one heck of a step up. I’m looking forward to living a little bit of the highlife down there as my suit has been aching to get out of the cramped confines of my suitcase. The heat here however has been quite intense so it will probably be a night only affair. Still with the reputation Miami’s night life has I don’t think I’ll be out of place late a night, seeking a classy encounter 🙂