Continuing from Paul's Bern Journal
Thursday, August 21, 1997
I got up at 8:00 and went downstairs for a breakfast of salmon, dried beef, and berries. Today we were going to be starting our "transfer" from Bern to Prague. We packed ourselves and our belongings into a convoy of two Toyota Previas: At least for today, Tim would be driving us and Julian would chauffeur the luggage.
Our first major stop on the trip was the Feldschlosschen brewery. (Feldschlosschen means "Little Castle in the Field.") This place has sentimental value for me: When I was a lad in college, on a summer program in Geneva, Feldschlosschen was our brew of choice. Alf had stopped at Feldschlosschen last year, while on a trip similar to this one.
We started out with some soft pretzel sandwiches and beers. Initially, we had the alcohol-free variety, which was surprisingly good! Even our drivers were able to join in with us. (Julian arrived a bit late, and was quite wary when we told him that Michael had said it was all right for him to consume the beer we had placed in front of him. He figured it out pretty quickly, however.)
Feldschlosschen makes a variety of beers, and we felt it our duty to sample most of them before leaving our table. They were quite excellent, better than I remembered from the days of my youth.
Then we were off for a tour of the brewery: We headed out the door and walked from the dining room to the plant. Because Buddy's balloon enterprise has a European base in Beaune, France, the folks at Feldschlosschen thought that our tour group was French. To honor us on the day of our tour, they hung out a French flag. Well, it's the thought that counts, and so we opted to feel honored despite the factual faux pas.
The brewery was founded in 1876, and it had gone through a number of expansions and modifications over the years. For instance, there is a much wider use of computers in the process than there was 100 years ago. Our helpful guide explained the whole brewing process, from selection of the raw ingredients through the various mixing and cooking and bottling and shipping. This is a huge operation! They can produce 210,000 bottles of beer per hour; the brewery's tanks have a combined storage capacity of 18,000,000 liters.
At the end of the tour, some of us purchased a few souvenirs at the brewery gify shop. Alf bought a case of the company's product for the crew, and the brewery itself chipped in some additional bottles for them.
Our knowledge of brewing having been enhanced, our happy band of sightseers climbed back into the Previa and headed in a Czechwardly direction. We had requested the Previa with the CD player (instead of cassette deck). Since Alf, Jean, Sandra, and Ken had brought some CD selections with them on this trip, we were able to listen to a broad variety of music: first we heard "Bush" (whatever that is), followed by Suzanne Vega, then the Cranberries.
Ken and Sandra passed around some breadsticks, which perked us up a bit. You cant chew and sleep at the same time, after all. Sandra had learned this once on a long trip, when she went through an entire box of Cheerios and was thus able to drive all night.
A little after 3:30 we crossed the border into Austria. The border guard checked Tims passport, but aside from that quick look, he waved us through with indifference.
Our days drive ultimately led us to Lech, in the Austrian Alps. The town is a beautiful ski resort during the winter: Virtually every building in town is a hotel or guesthouse of some sort. We stayed at the Gasthof Lech Post. This was very different from the hotels where weve previously stayed: The other nights were spent at big city hotels that were palatial in size and atmosphere. The Lech Post is more like a country lodge. Sandra noted that, like Gastons home in "Beauty and the Beast," they "use antlers in all their decorating."
The rooms at the Lech Post are extremely deluxe, however, right down to the plush white robes. My room was quite cozy, not nearly as oversized as the ones where Ive stayed so far, but much more intimate: It seemed to wrap itself around me, in a wonderfully warm and comfortable way. I understand that Alfs suite here tended a bit more toward largeness: The bathroom consisted of several separate chambers, including a steam bath.
In the hour before dinner, we walked around the small town and browsed through the souvenir shops. Were adjusting once again to a new currency. Schillings seem to run between 8 and 13 to the dollar, depending on where our Francs are exchanged. We suspect that some of the money-changers are making a tidy profit through our currency trades, but we cant quite figure out what the correct rate is. In any event, we view this issue with no more than a mild, idle curiosity.
We had a four-course dinner in the hotel. It began with boiled beef in aspic, with a horseradish sauce. It was all much more mild and subtle in flavor than Id imagined it would be quite delicious! This was followed by consomme with a butter dumpling, and then the main course. Most of us had the veal goulash with potato dumplings; the others chose roast duck. It was all excellent, and we felt fully dumpled. For dessert, the menu had promised ice cream with "poached peas." This seemed an usual combination, but we were curious and felt daring. As it turned out, the typist had missed a letter, and the poached components were actually pears. When this was pointed out to the waiter, the erroneous menus were quickly confiscated.
Michael, Alf and I had a long and technical discussion relating to web site issues; this served quite well in getting everyone to feel like retiring early for the evening. We went to our rooms around 10:00, an early record for us, and we agreed to meet the next morning for our trip to Salzburg.
Friday, August 22, 1997
My rooster clock crowed at 7:55, and I bounded from my bed. It was a longer nights sleep than Id had in a while, although I did wake up a few times. On this trip, I have not once woken up wondering where I am: I would expect that to happen with this sort of exotic travel, but it hasnt. This is perhaps testimony to the totally relaxed nature of the trip. There cannot be an easier, more carefree way to travel than with Alf. Although we have very busy days, all is scheduled loosely and we are free to alter our plans as we wish.
Some of my German is coming back, as I make feeble attempts to speak with the hotel staff. Petra gave me some gentle pointers to improve my pronunciation, which seems to have deteriorated considerably in its years of desuetude. Of course, it might always have been a bit more flawed than I realized.
As with our other accommodations, a large breakfast buffet was available, and I sampled some bits of the hotel's offerings as I tried, at last, to scribble a few post cards to send back to the United States. At this point, I will surely arrive back home before they do. Still, the Austrian postage stamps I bought at the hotel are beautiful, and the recipients will surely prefer them to the Swiss stamps that would have graced the more timely dispatches. Indeed, I should have procured some extra copies of these stamps for myself. Perhaps Ill buy some as souvenirs when we arrive in Salzburg.
Today we listened to Paula Cole, Mozart and the Doors as we traveled along the highways. Julian, who was on the crew for Buddys other balloon in Bern, drove. The scenery was lovely as we passed through the mountain valleys. Church steeples in the villages alternated between spiky pyramids and rounded onion domes; an occasional castle graced the side of a mountain.
We crossed briefly into Germany, where an errant chunk of that country juts into Austria. The border crossing was, once again, uneventful: The border guard waved us through without even asking to see any of our passports. I suspect that Michael and Tim, in the forward van, alert the guards to our utter respectability and thus facilitate our passage. As we passed through Germany, the landscape leveled substantially, with the mountains giving way to lush hills and meadows.
In less than an hour, we were crossing back into Austria and found ourselves just a few kilometers from Salzburg. To get through the border, however, we had to buy a little sticker a "vignette" for our windshield. Vehicles must have one in order to travel on the Autobahn, and since we had already been doing that, we had to clear our record by affixing our vignettes. The alternative would have been shame and imprisonment for us all.
Jean had assembled a marvelous collection of exotic candies during the course of the trip, and she passed some of them around as we rolled along the highway. We began with some juniper candies, which tasted very much like pine cones with a soft sap middle. These were followed by very small but surprisingly strong lemon candies. Finally, there was a "kiss" candy, as many breath candies here are called, with a minty taste.
At around 2:00 we arrived at our chosen lunch site: The Hotel Schloss Fuschl, just a few miles away from Salzburg. This restaurant unquestionably has the most spectacular view of any weve visited: Nestled high in the hills, it overlooks the Fuschlsee, a large and gorgeous lake. After finishing the Prague portion of the trip, Alf will be returning with Buddy to Austria for additional ballooning here, and the party will be staying at this hotel. What a lovely place to be headquartered for a few days!
For lunch, the most popular choice was Wiener schnitzel, although a few renegades opted for alternatives. Alfs smoked trout looked delicious, but the Wiener schnitzel was a delight and I was without regret. Michael initially selected a local white wine as an accompaniment, although he found it to be less than outstanding. Most of us will happily partake of any liquid placed in front of us, so it falls upon Michael to maintain quality standards for the good of us all. After studying the wine list with enhanced scrutiny, Michael selected a Chardonnay for our second bottle. It was, indeed, an improvement.
During the course of the day, some in our party had grown suspicious of strange sounds and vibrations emanating from the right front wheel of our Previa. I have to admit that I heard nothing, but Alf heard it and Sandra felt it. In any event, upon removing the wheel cover after lunch, Michael and Julian discovered that two of the bolts securing that wheel had been sheared off in the course of our journey. This was not good, especially since it was now late on Friday afternoon and repairs might prove difficult. With furrowed brows, we proceeded cautiously to our hotel.
We were booked into the Hotel Kobenzl for the night. Like the Schloss Fuschl, it is located up in the hills. The balconies extending from each of our rooms overlooked the city of Salzburg. What a beautiful valley! Its flat and very wide, with a couple of hills in the middle. Atop the smaller of the hills sits the Salzburg castle; below it are the domed churches of the old city. Farther away, at the edges of the valley, the mountains rise sharply thousands of feet into the sky.
After settling in and doing some pedestrian exploration of the vicinity, we gathered at 7:30 for a trip into the city and a visit to todays brewery, the home of Weissebier. Michael, Tim and Julian picked us up with the other Previa: Ours was in the shop. As we were settling into our hotel, Michael had been investigating repair options for the Previas errant wheel. Surprisingly, at least to me, the Salzburg Toyota dealer did not have the necessary bolts in stock to effect repairs. This problem was exacerbated by the calendar: It was now Friday evening, and Europe does not have overnight delivery services that operate on weekends.
Our options were limited. The best choice called for a Bombard employee to drive the needed parts overnight from Beaune, France to Salzburg. We would be able to leave at our scheduled hour, and our luggage would wait behind for repairs to be completed on the Previa sometime on Saturday. With luck, our luggage and the other Previa would catch up with us in Prague tomorrow evening.
The Weissbier brewery had a very large beer garden, and it was quite a popular place on Friday nights. We sat down in the indoor part. We sampled some of their product and ordered dinner so we'd have something to wash down with it. I opted for sausage and sauerkraut, which seemed to me another good beer-accompanying choice. Others had other things, including a fine Hungarian goulash. My sauerkraut was quite flavorful, with a much sweeter taste than I expected. Hmmm, sweet 'n' sauer kraut, so to speak. As we finished dining, Sandra occupied herself with an interesting sculpture project that included utensils, a salt shaker and some toothpicks.
After dinner and another beer or two, we met up with brewmaster Augustine for our tour of the facility. After having gone through the Feldschlosschen brewery the previous day, this place make for an astonishing juxtaposition! Of course, Feldschlosschen serves the beer needs of millions; this place is very micro. Its product does not travel very far at all. Indeed, a pretty sizeable percentage is consumed right on-premises, in the beergarden. Most of the rest is delivered to local drinkeries. This beer is infiltered and unpasteurized, and its shelf life is accordingly limited. The absence of filtration makes it a very cloudy brew. The bottles are individually filled by hand! What a change from the vast bottling mechanism at Feldschlosschen! Each bottle is then sealed with a ceramic stopper that is wired to the bottle and clamped down in place.
Jean had been here before, and contended that, if one left a small amount of the beer in the bottom of a glass, the unfiltered little yeasties would spring to a more active life and begin to visibly grow. We tried this to no avail. He even gripped the glass tightly around the bottom, so as to incubate the critters more thoroughly. We later discovered that the active yeast are only present in the bottled beer, and we were trying our experiment with beer that had come out of a large tank.
After the tour, we had another round or two in the outdoor part of the beergarden, which was a very happening place. (I wonder how the neighbors like having this establishment next door?) Then we went back to the hotel and had a chardonnay night cap before retiring for the day. Another late night: I didn't make it to bed until about 1:30.
Saturday, August 23, 1997
I got up a little after 8:30 and went downstairs for breakfast. Once again, there was a deluxe breakfast buffet available. Stefani directed me to a very scenic window seat and brought me some coffee.
At the buffet, I loaded up on my now-standard breakfast: lox. Nothing starts a day like that breakfast of champions, cold fish! Here, there was also a deliciously pungent bleu cheese to accompany the salmon. At this point, I thought, I was getting extremely close to breakfast perfection.
The rest of the entourage seems to have been lulled completely into the realm of room service for breakfast. Well, there ARE very nice little balconies opening off our rooms here, and the view is the same from them as it is out the window next to my breakfast table. I suppose they aren't missing much ... but does room service offer the cold fish and bleu cheese breakfast? I doubt it!
After breakfast I strolled around the vicinity of the Hotel Kobenzl and snapped some photos of the Salzburg scenery lying below. As with many visions on this trip, I knew that film could not adequately capture the view, the surroundings, or the feeling. But film is all that technology provides, so I clicked away for a spell.
As the appointed hour for Michael's arrival neared, I headed back to the lobby of the hotel and met Ken and Sandra. They looked well-rested but fish-deprived.
Michael pulled up in the Previa, and we eagerly asked for news of the day's repair plans. With a practiced nonchalance, Michael informed us that the van was fixed and ready to roll! Apprarently, a Bombard employee in Beaune, France had driven all night to bring us a fresh set of bolts, and the Toyota dealer had installed them first thing in the morning. No delays, no worries! We wondered how we could ever have thought that anything might cause trouble on this trip of perfection!
As we checked out of the Hotel Kobenzl, we each received complimentary Mozart CDs from the hotel staff.
We headed down the road at about 11:00 with Tim driving. Alf pulled out a couple of appropriate magazines -- Yahoo! and Frequent Flyer -- and we passed them back and forth. Frequent Flyer reported that Delta's per-passenger food expenditures had fallen dramatically, and the airline now ranked somewhere below the median of surveyed carriers in that measure. Yahoo! told of a web site devoted to the controversy surrounding the proper orientation of toilet paper rolls. (After discussion, we agreed that the roll should feed over the top of the roll, although we recognized the rights of others to freedom of toilet paper orientation.)
The musical accompaniment for today's journey included Suzanne Vega and Greg Allman, along with some very strange "music" that Tim had brought along. These British folk, I just don't know!
Since we were about to exit Austria, Jean emptied her pockets of Schillings and added that money to her "Austria" Zip-Lock(tm) bag. Out came the Czech money, and she was good to go in the upcoming country.
Just before we left Austria, we passed through the town of Freistadt. During the course of our trip we had seen a number of McDonald's restaurants, and in the heart of Freistadt a new one was under construction. Like others we have seen, this one was going to be equipped with a "McDrive," to facilitate Austrian fry-munching on the road. We noted with interest that the new facility was being constructed directly across the street from the Burgermeister's house, which had been built in 1769. How very appropriate!
We crossed the Czech border without major incident. The authorities did spend a few minutes looking at the luggage in the back of the pack-mule Previa, but I think they were primarily intrigued by all the stickers on Alf's cases. Before long, we were on our way.
Nobody seems to stamp passports these days! I got stamped in Zurich, but I think that was only because the fellow in line ahead of me specifically asked for a stamp and the official's momentum carried him through to mine. Since then, though, despite the crossing of a few borders, my passport's pages have acquired no additional foreign ink.
Very shortly after crossing the border into the Czech Republic, we noticed occasional pairs of young ladies standing at the side of the road. They were quite dressed up, with high heels and skimpy outfits, and they smiled and waived at all the new arrivals into their country. How friendly this place is!
Today's brewery is the Budvar Brewery, home of the original Budweiser beer. The inspiration for the strange American imitation is excellent: This is the finest beer of all the breweries we have visited. We ordered lunch, of course. I had spatzle, which seemed an appropriate selection. It was pretty tasty but extremely heavy. I passed a bit around to the others, but ultimately half of the serving remained uneaten. Afterwards, we shopped again for souvenirs, and Alf bought the balloon crew some refreshments for later.
The main highway between Salzburg and Prague, which has to be one of the major entryways into the country, is only two lanes wide most of the way. We're held up for a while by some very slow-moving trucks, but they turn off and we're zipping along once again. There a number of cars on the road that seem mechanically incapable of travelling at regular highway speeds, though, so our progress toward the city is erratic. Once we get to within 30 kilometers, the road expands to a divided, six-lane highway, and we progress at a much better pace.
Next: Paul's Prague Journal covers Prague and the trip home!