Stuttgart, Castles and Spas!

There are a number of popular ride sharing sites in Europe and we used one to book a trip with a guy to Stuttgart. Slightly mind blowing, but the guy we drove with ended up being a developer, and specifically he is an Intershop developer! Some may recall that last year I did a training with Intershop, which is not exactly a hugely popular piece of software. The company lives in a city called Yenna. The guy we drove with actually knew the guy that ran the class that I attended! It was crazy! Anyway, we talked about programming for about 2 hours (or at least as much as I could get him to talk with me about!) and it was awesome.

We arrived in a strange part of Stuttgart quite early (8:30 or 9 AM perhaps?) and spent a few hours trying to figure out exactly where we should go to find something to do. After a number of false starts (I think that’s the expression/phrase) (which included an awesome breakfast of coffee, breads and pastries in a little back alley, and a Burger King for a bathroom and ANOTHER coffee) we found ourselves to the city center and ended up going to a Starbucks to do some trip planning and to wait for Lars to get off work so we could go home with him. It ended up being quite a productive afternoon, as we ended up booking a number of things, including a bus to Amsterdam and a flight from Amsterdam to Zagreb.
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(This would be a good point to mention that a friend of mine, who despite not having seen in many many years and even then only briefly, is likely one of my earliest childhood friends. Julia, whom I had really really hoped to visit in Berlin, offered to host us and I am incredibly sad that it didn’t work out. Julia is one of two daughters of family friends Wolfgang and Grobie (sp?) and these were the people who introduced me to Kinder eggs. Wolfgang visiting on a business trip was very near to Christmas for me as a child as it always meant a box of Kinder eggs. Those of you who know me know how significant this is to me! Anyway, I don’t know Julia well other then her travel adventures I’ve read about on facebook (I probably last saw her when I was in middle school or high school, and even then only briefly) but I have a feeling we may have been kindred spirits. I was really looking forward to getting to know her and perhaps having a connection as our parents did when they were younger. Anyway, I want to say this because I really am very sad that it didn’t work out to visit. Berlin would have been an amazing city to see of course, but most of all I was looking forward to getting to better know Julia. It’s on my list of important things to do, so I hope I have an opportunity to hang out some other time and perhaps we can host Julia and her partner if/when they visit the US next.)

Anyway, back on track. We met Lars at a train station (10-15 minutes late I think! The second time that we didn’t realize that there were multiple stops of the same name in slightly different places depending on the type of train you take (S-Bahn vs U-Bahn)). It was SOOO nice to see Lars at the station. Lars is a friend that I worked with at Infield Design, we spent a number of stressful nights together working on a Magento module and we like to consider ourselves core-committers ;). Anyway it’s been years since I’ve seen him, but it felt like we had just seen each other yesterday, it was so nice to see him once again.

OK, so a thing I have to point out: Lars and Saskia live outside of Stuttgart by an hour or so drive, near/in the Black Forest in a small town called Bad Liebenzell. After all of our travels, as I believe we’ve mentioned in other blog posts, sometimes it is nice to get away from a city and be somewhere smaller. Lars and Saskia’s place was 100% amazing and perfect for this. It’s difficult to describe exactly but basically driving to Lars and Saskia’s was (for us) like driving into what you picture an old small German town should be. Beautiful forests covered with snow, fresh air, old houses in the traditional German style (beams of wood with stones between in a checker sort of pattern). Bad Liebenzell is down in a sort of valley and surrounded by hills/trees and it just felt amazing. As you may have noticed this blog post is getting a bit long in the tooth so I feel like my words are failing me, but I hope some of the photos will give some idea of what I’m talking about.
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When we arrived at Lars and Saskia’s place we were so excited to be there, and their apartment is awesome. You can literally see a castle up in the forest from our bed. It felt sort of like a combination of Houghton/Handcock and Germany, to me. The air was so fresh.
Our bed at Lars and Saskia's

Anyway, again, the highlight here was seeing Lars and Saskia, but we also did a ton of fun stuff. For one thing, I walked to the bakery with Lars or Saskia every morning which was awesome. Walking through a small German town to buy bread for breakfast is basically like a dream for me and I got to do it every single day.
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First night Lars and Saskia took us out for a traditional German dinner where I had snitzel and Lindsay had kase spaetzle. We also had a huge Radler beer (mixture of something like sprite and beer) made from the beer brewed at the restaurant.
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Second day we had an amazing breakfast, then hung around the house for a while (Lars had to work, Saskia very kindly took the day off to hang out with us!) where Lindsay and I did a bit more travel planning for Croatia.

After that we went on a beautiful walk in the forest.
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After this was a highlight for me: we went to a very awesome spa. Generally in the past when I thought of the word “spa” I generally though “girls go there and it’s expensive and I don’t want to go there” but in many parts of the world “spa” is sort of like “relaxing place where you can swim and sit in a hot tub or take a nice hot shower and sit in a steam room.” This particular spa that we went to was seriously crazy awesome. We don’t have any photos really, but the best part of the spa for me was an outdoor swimming pool that was really fancy with different bubble areas. It was heated, and there was a bit of snow falling, and it was very beautiful/clear/very little chlorine water. Lars and I did some “dive training” (swimming around holding our breath) while Lindsay and Saskia did a water exercise class.
Not a great photo of the outdoor area, but you get the idea. This is a view looking down from the apartment:
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Honestly I could spend an hour explaining how awesome this spa was. In the end, it was sort of like the German version of an Onsen in Japan I’d say. Different, but similar in many ways and very relaxing.

For dinner Saskia made us a traditional awesome dinner, spatzle and sausage with a type of bean sauce on top. I forget the name, but it was amazing. We also drank a few new types of beers. As I hope is clearn, the theme throughout the last 2 blog posts is: “amazing hosts.”
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We went to a bar the Lars used to frequent when he was younger and we got to meet the owner which is a friend of Lars. I drank my first beer with coke, which was good (though a bit sweet for me I think).
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The next day we had another amazing breakfast and then took a drive to a Hohenzollern Castle. Honestly, it was like something out of a fairy tale. It was foggy, and snowing and that, coupled with our amazing walk up to the castle itself was out of this world. We had a great small lunch (soup, hot wine) at the castle and went on a tour which was really cool.
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That evening Lindsay made some very great pasta for dinner and we finished the night hanging out, chatting, and watching the second Hobbit movie (which, and this seriously blows my mind, I somehow hadn’t watched yet. I normally see “big” movies like this in theaters, so I’m not quite sure what happened.).

Sunday, the last day, we had another amazing breakfast and then Lars/Saskia brought us back to Stuttgart as they had a vacation planned previously. We were very sad to say goodbye to Lars and Saskia. I truly hope we’ll get a chance to see them again soon, and as with Babsi and Peter I hope to do a better job keeping in touch with them.

We spent our last day in Germany in Stuttgart, coffee shop hopping. Sadly being Sunday there weren’t a lot of places open, so we ended up spending about 8 hours in various Starbucks on that day. It was good though as we got quite a bit of planning for our trip done, and also I got to do a bit of programming work…we even got a geocache in…
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That evening we took another night bus to Paris! It was a bit stressful figuring out where we would go, and there was an hour period of panic when it wasn’t 100% clear if we’d make our bus (frustrating considering we had literally all day to get there but we misjudged the time it’d take to find the bus pickup).

Finding the bus was stressful as I mentioned above, but it got even worse when the bus arrived. The bus driver, who as far as I can tell was just a huge dick, point blank said that we couldn’t get on the bus without a ticket. The thing is, we of course did have a ticket, but it was an “eticket” emailed to us. I’m not going to play dumb, the reality is that it’s not crazy that the bus driver expected the ticket to be printed out, however generally if a ticket needs to be printed it will say so somewhere on the ticket “not valid unless printed” “please print and give to driver” “TICKET MUST BE PRINTED” or something of the like. But this ticket, which again was in large bold letters called our “e ticket” (to me even further making it seem reasonable for us to keep the ticket on our phone). Anyway I hate to be the person who comes off as immature because I feel like I’ve been wronged when I really haven’t, but there was just something about the way the guy spoke that made the situation what it was. He’d look at me, say something in German, scowl. “This isn’t ticket (pointing at the phone), this is ticket (pointing at a printed out ticket.” I said “Sir I’m very very sorry, it says “eticket” and we need to be on the bus!” He’d scowl and shoe us away. Then other people would get on the bus (all who of course had printed their ticket).

Eventually I literally begged the guy, with my hands in the begging position. I said “sorry” and “please” in my best German I could. Lindsay was honestly annoyed because (while understanding the situation) could not believe how we were being talked to/treated. He looked at us like garbage, and was unmistakably clear how stupid he thought we were. He eventually let us on the bus a solid 5 minutes of begging and him looking/speaking to us in very disgusted German.

I’d like to take a minute to point out that Lindsay and I have now taken a nearly countless number of buses, and have never once printed out the ticket. We generally show our passport, or show the ticket on our phone, or some combination of the two. This is the first and only time we’ve ever had any troubles, not to mention the first time in my life I think I truly had to be in such a pitiful begging position like garbage.

Anyway, the lesson is this: print the ticket, or don’t and hope you don’t have to deal with this sort of thing but realize you might.

And with that, we were off to Paris!

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