Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Friday, December 29, 2017

Perhaps just a bit more adventure than we signed up for?

The day started to turn sour when we saw the sign saying that all the tickets to tour Neuschwanstein Castle were sold out for the day.  :-(  If you aren't familiar, Neuschwanstein is one of the most famous castles in Europe as it was built to be the prototypical romantic castle. The story of that visit will be in another post, for this story is about the 27 hours surrounding it.

We were up and out of the AirBNB in Salzburg by 5:45 that morning, and 6 hours later in line for castle tickets, when word came down that tickets were sold out.  But we'd invested too much time so far to just turn around, so we hiked up to the castle to at least say we'd been there.  We debated whether to tour Hohenschwangau - the castle just across the way, or to just get back to the train and possibly get on our way to Switzerland a bit earlier.  We knew there was a train departing at 3:06, and 4:06.  It was only 1:30 so we decided to head back the 2 miles to the trainstation and see if we could get out even earlier.

Only... the line for the bus back to the train station, and the TRAFFIC JAM all the way back to town were horrendous, and we didn't even get there until 3:00.  Our only option to get out of town was the 4:06.  Ours, and about 500 other tourists'.  Getting on that train was one truly frightening experience.  The crowd sweeping us along - shoving and jostling... Kelly and I had our luggage where as most others did not.  I felt very badly for the 4 people who had to try and get OFF that train with that hoard pressing them back in. We didn't event attempt to get seats.  We had been warned when we got our tickets that we had a short connection after leaving Fussen -- 3 minutes, actually.  The train didn't even arrive until 6 minutes late and left 12 minutes late - so we knew we wouldn't make that connection.  We hoped the conductor would be by soon, but we became concerned we would never see him, so I went in search.  I slipped, tripped and stepped on toes through probably 5 cars before I found him.  He introduced me to another gentleman also going to Switzerland - who spoke English -- so he asked us to sort it out.   Using the train app on his phone, he quickly developed a plan that involved getting off at our original station.  But Kelly was far behind me and I didn't know how close that station was.  So I pushed my way back.... only to find Kelly talking to the conductor - and getting exactly the same route from him directly!  He must have gotten off of the train and walked back by way of the platform, because I have no idea how else he could have beat me back there with the train now 20 minutes late and restless passengers everywhere.

Anyways, we get off and chatted with our new guide a bit.  He went in to consult with the agents, and came back to tell us an even better route - because our first route still involved a fairly short connection, and at the end of the day, he said, he just had little confidence that any trains were on time.  (The Swiss have a fairly pessimistic view of the German train system, and I'm starting to sympathize)  Anyways, he told us that we wanted to catch a short 10 minute train, and then wait an hour, to catch a direct train all the way to St. Gallen - our destination.  OK.  Before leaving Fussen, we had bought some individual bottles of wine and were planning to enjoy them on the train - if we could ever get settled long enough to do so!

We caught the 10 minute train - and again there were no seats to be had.  So there we were, gathered at the end of a car.  Kelly was shifting some things around with her bags, and the bag with our snacks and wine shifted the floor fairly hard.  And then started leaking red wine...  :-0  UG!  Nothing to to about it, but left it in place, and tried to hurry it out the door as soon as we arrived.  Fortunately only one bottle broke - but it pretty much shattered.  We mopped it up and salvaged what we could.

This was the stop with over an hour break, so our new friend said he was going to leave to find dinner.  We said we'd see him on the platform for our next train.  There were only 3 benches in this train station that were all taken, and it was now raining outside so we weren't going to sit out there.  And, we'd been standing for both of the last two train rides - after that hike up to the castle I was definitely looking for a seat!  So we decided to buy a burger in the station, since we were now scheduled to arrive in St. Gallen too late for the meal Antonella had planned for us.

Only, the diner didn't take credit cards, and we were out of Euros as we were headed for Switzerland! (who uses Swiss Franks for their currency).  Kelly asked if there was an ATM - there was - out in the rain, and apparently several blocks away...  Our dinners were made and I was partially done eating... before she came back saying that the ATM refused to give her any money.  BUGGER.  Thankfully they agreed to take US Dollars - otherwise we thought we might be washing dishes!

So we'd now used up our hour layover, and needed to get to our train, which appeared to be at the platform.  Panic, and a long day already caused us to run to the platform, change our minds and run to another, only to ask the conductor who confirmed that was NOT our train, and we ran back to the first platform.  I then managed to see Zurich on the sign for that train, so we tried to get on, but the doors wouldn't open.  Had to run up to the next car and managed to get on.  WHEW.

So we settled down for a 2 hour ride.  Kelly was tracking the train one her phone.  (by the way, she just got a new Pixel 2, and it's been a life saver!  My AT&T service has not picked up anywhere so far, and she's had service almost the whole time.  And yes, her data roaming is disabled.  HOWEVER, the train app we were using in Germany didn't seem to run well at all on her Android phone, so we were consistently stymied with trying to make our own train plans.)  Anyways, an hour in.... the train comes to a stop, and she looks worried, and tells me it looks like everyone else is getting off the train.  I said that's not a problem, the train will continue regardless of whether there are passengers.  But then the lights were turned out.

Crapola.  Kelly also said she'd been tracking the train - but wondering when it would be turning east to head towards St. Gallen.  LOL.

Ug, we were stuck at an end of the line little German station, Obertsdorf.  It was 9:00, and very few people were around.  We called Antonella again, who frankly had never heard of this town and didn't know how to help us.  Another group of travellers came in, who indeed spoke English... and who looked alarmed to hear that we were trying to get to St. Gallen -- "It is very hard to get there from here!".  They were suggesting we should make our way back to Munich and try again (SEROUSLY?!).  We resolved to return to the next largest station and inquire there.  But one of them came and found us on the train with a new route that only required 90 minutes of train travel.  Sadly, that was 30 minutes of travel that night..... and an hour starting at 6:30 in the morning.   GAH

There was nothing to be done - we set off and arrived at Lindau about 11 pm, and were pleased to see there was an actual rail station with benches and everything there.  We hunkered down, planning to spend the night.  Unfortunately the bathrooms were already locked.  Kelly did find a bottled water vending machine though.  There was quite a bit of foot traffic through the station for the next hour.  Then it got deadly quiet, and we were the only two there, until the drunk man kicked in the door.

Around midnight, the main station door flew open so hard that half the glass panes broke.  He came in, swearing loudly, and continuously.  He walked thought the station and out towards the platforms.  We were trying to just stay inconspicuous so as to not try to attract his attention.  In a few minutes, he came back in, still cursing a blue streak, slamming various doors, though none of the others lost their glass.  He exited through another door in the front.

About 10 minutes later, a small group of people came in, leading some police officers.  They came and asked if we had witnessed the guy come in, we said we had and gave a brief description.  They, however, thought he had left the station out the back, and we were able to tell them he came back in and out the front.  They all turned and went that way.

15 minutes later, the police officers came back in to talk with us further.  They had apprehended the guy, and we described him, and then confirmed the photo they showed us.  They took an official statement from Kelly.  They were both really nice, and fluent English speakers, and were joking with us.  They apologized, saying their town was usually a sleepy one where nothing exciting ever happens.

Then... they asked when our train was.  We said sadly it was at 6:30 in the morning.  Oh!  They said that we wouldn't be allowed to stay in the station overnight, that at 1:00 we would be kicked out.  It was getting close to 1:00.  

Well, darn it - we said we didn't know where to go.  We didn't really want to rent a hotel room for a few hours, and they commiserated.  I asked if there was an all-night cafe near by?  Well - there was a 24 hour Mc Donalds...  We said that would be fine - was it within walking distance?  They cringed and said it was 5k away.  With her most pouting face ever, Kelly asked them -- well who could give us a ride there?  She's a cheeky monkey.  There was quite a bit of back and forth between the officers in German...  and finally they said if we would put our luggage in a locker, they could give us a lift.  Deal! 

Chatting on our way over, they were remarking that actually they had one of the larger police cars that night - that they had more room in the back than usual.  It wasn't what I'd call roomy.  We asked if they had visited the states before - one had.  He is a fan of Dodge Chargers and had come over last summer and rented one.   But our speed limits were pathetically too slow.   He couldn't imagine why anyone should have to be limited to less than 130 KPH anywhere on a big road.   (I just looked this up -- that's 80 MPH.  LOL)

And then the Golden Arches appeared and our ride was at an end.  I had a chuckle when they both got out to open our doors for us .... and then realized the courtesy was because you can't open the back doors of a police car from the inside!

But here we were, 1:30 am at Mc Donalds.  At least the bathrooms weren't locked!  We setup shop at a table in the corner - and proceeded to watch kids and adults come in constantly all night.  Paranoid about battery life on our phones - we limited phone time.  BECAUSE WE CAN'T FIND POWER OUTLETS ANYWHERE!  Not the train station, not coffee shops, and not at Mc Donalds.  Both of us had external batteries, but those were both already drained, as well as my laptop - all trying to keep the phones juiced up during this day of  too many changes of plans.

4:30 we decided to head on back to the train station.  But it was now raining quite heavily.  We might have asked an employee to call a cab for us, but we were still out of Euros.  Hemming and hawing about what to do, we saw the rain had abated, so we just set out on foot.  Brisk early morning 5k jaunt, that was.  When we got close to the train station - which in Lindau is inexplicably located on an island like peninsula in Lake Constance, we decided to cut through the residential /shopping blocks instead of going around.  What a cute cobble stoned old town development - and quite large judging from the more than a dozen blocks we had to wind through to get to the station.   Our whole trip took about 45 minutes, but was well lit the whole way so felt secure, and the rain was never more than a mist.

Got our luggage, and onto our 3 trains to get to St Gallen at 7:30 am with 0 incidents.  It was the beginning of a new day!  Albeit a day that started with us going directly to bed when we got to Antonella's.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Day 3 Keukenhof!!!!

To say we were eagerly anticipating our visit to the famous Keukenhoff Gardens of Holland is an understatement.  The gardens are are 70 acres of tulips and other bulb-flowered spectacular-ness.  They say 7 million bulbs were planted last year, each of which will be dug up and replaced for next year's bloom.  Amazingly, all this work goes into an open season which is only 8 weeks a year, from approximately mid March to mid May. So, we had originally planned to travel later in May, but adjusted our schedule to accommodate this particular excursion. 

I don't have a lot to say on this post... the pictures totally don't do it justice, either... but it's the best I've got!

(Here's a link to my blog's home page so that you can navigate to other posts about our trip)

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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Day 2.1 All Aboard

Finally on Sunday afternoon it was time to board our ship – The Avalon Luminary.  She carries 130 passengers, has a restaurant, two lounges and a sky deck.  Unfortunately, Belgium in May is still quite brisk, and frequently rainy. Not to mention that for low bridges, and overnight when we dock in a city, the captain closes the sky deck for security reasons.  So… we really haven’t spent any time up there.  But there is no lack for comfort on board regardless.

Our room has a queen sized bed (two twins pushed together, but the mattress was very comfortable, so we were never aware of it being separate beds!), private bath with a large shower, and plenty of closet space.  Since a significant driver in our decision to do a cruise is the fact that you don’t have to keep moving your luggage each day, we immediately unpacked and stowed the empty suitcases below the bed.  A big question was going to be what to do with the scooters.  As you may recall, the cruise line objected strenuously that there was no room to store the scooter.  Indeed, upon first glance it was looking to be quite awkward. 

I’d intended that each of us would store one scooter, but since the Travel Scoot was non-functional, we took them both so that Dave could tinker with it.  That scooter folds right up, so that was a simple matter to push under the bed.  The other one we were starting to resign ourselves to nest under the desk area, when I discovered that it would fit fantastically in the closet!  Et voila – two scooters stored and NO floor space sacrificed!

Learning how to move the scooters around on board took a bit of coordination, but even in the morning when the cleaning carts were in the hallway, I was still able to grab the front wheel and pull the scoots up the hallway…  Note to self – the farther back on the ship, the longer commute each day!  Gangplanks were awkward – mostly because of protruding wheels that would catch the hand ropes.  And the most difficult navigation of all, was the one day we did double park – and had to ascend to the sky deck to transfer to another cruise ship, then descend to their main deck to disembark.  I’m thankful we still only had one functioning scooter that day, because that was a heck of a transfer.  I learned to carry the scoot vertically, and hook the front wheel over my shoulder – that way I was able to free one hand to hold onto the hand rail.  Because those stairways up to the sky decks are narrow and steep!

Contrary to the protestations of the cruise line, all of the crew members were quick to offer to carry the scoots on and off for me.  To the point where I sometimes felt goaded into declaring I can do this!!  Oh well – it’s good to accept help.  Even our fellow passengers jumped in frequently to offer assistance.

As for the elevator on board... that was quite frustrating.  The cabin decks at the rear of the boat were 1/2 floor offset from the restaurant/lounge decks in the front.  There are 3 levels of cabins.  At first, second and even third look, the elevator appeared to only operate on the cabin decks.  But it turns out there is a hidden door in the side of the elevator that could open on the half floors...  HURM.  So we made rather little use of the elevator.  In light of that, the 2nd deck of cabins was ideal for Dave and I because it was generally 1/2 flight up or down that he needed to navigate.

Anyways, once stowed and the safety drill complete, we were underway just as dinner was served.  Dinner in the restaurant always had an appetizer, soup, entrée and dessert – wth 2-4 choices for each.  So there was lots of variety, and it was all wonderful!  We had already made up our minds to forego the gluten free and dairy free restrictions for this trip, and that didn’t take but a single meal to become a distant memory, haha!  It’s interesting to note that after a week of eating with abandon, neither of us have had any mal-adjustment back to this way of eating.

Most days we set sail just as dinner began, and sailed overnight.  The first morning we awoke in the Rotterdam harbor - one of the largest in the world.  Thanks to the wonder that is facebook, my brother alerted us to keep an eye out for the oceanliner, The Rotterdam which is permanently docked in the harbor.  Turns out that is the ship my parents and my oldest sister and brother sailed back from Europe to the USA on in 1961.  Low and behold, just minutes later, there she was!  (and no, those are not flames erupting on the dock, but a strange reflection of the table of people behind me, oddly spotlighted...)

(Here's a link to my blog's home page so that you can navigate to other posts about our trip)

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Monday, May 08, 2017

Day 1-2 Amsterdam

We arrived at the hotel in Amsterdam late in the day, but its light until after 9 here now, so we couldn’t resist taking a stroll to find some dinner.  As our hotel was very near the Old Town area, of course we went there! 

Old town still has the layout as was created in the Middle Ages – very narrow streets and crooked buildings.  It’s also immensely popular, so maneuvering through these very crowded cobblestone streets was fairly unnerving for David on the scooter.  After dinner I noticed he was moving about more confidently, and he said that he had decided that if he took a spill, then so be it – he would rely upon some of these crowds to help him get back up!  With that great attitude he took to navigating the challenging streets like a pro.

Old Town was packed with bars and restaurants of all flavors.  

We decided to try “La Paella” – because the menu had a list of tapas, but once we got inside and saw the paella being served we could not resist.  Beautiful pans of golden rice, mixed seafoods and veggies.   Oh, yum!  

As we claimed to not be very hungry, we split two orders – but had no trouble cleaning them up!

It was full dark by the time we left, and decided to head back through the Red Light district which essentially surrounded us anyway.  The incredible density and array of shops continued, though the themes of the businesses started to shift into the more risqué.  Alas, we did not happen upon the street where the ladies of the night advertise themselves in windows down onto the street – but I did not insist upon dragging my parents around to find it!

Back to the hotel after 11 - when we had had all intentions of an early night.  A well!  At least we needed no extra encouragement to climb straight into bed! 

Sunday morning we joined our cruise mates for a tour of the city.  We started on a canal cruise, and based on the line we saw later to get on one of these glass boat tours in town, we were very happy to have had a private tour arranged for us. 

We also were treated to a gloriously beautiful sunny day – the locals said this was the first of the year so far?!

One gets a fantastic view of Amsterdam from the canals.  There are many resident house-boats permanently moored in place.  They have mailboxes, swewage control and fixed gangplanks for access.  We even saw them doubling up (double parking) such that the second boad had access rights across the first boat to get home!

There is an incredible variety of boats.  Many with bicycles chained to a bike rack on the sidewalk.  Gardens, including potted trees on the deck and...

This ingenious one that had a floating garden alongside.

Apparently these boat houses are now some of the most expensive housing in the city!  

And of course, the bridges, too.

Amsterdam is famous for the architecture that has narrow houses with ornate and individualistic roof treatments.  Story goes that owners were taxed on the width of their house – so they are all quite narrow, but very tall.  Some are more narrow than others – 3, 2 and even just 1 window wide.

Most of these row houses come with hoisting beams from their peak.  Such beams allow for hauling up your furniture, to move in through the window on the appropriate floor.  Otherwise you’d never get that furniture up the narrow stairways!  I love this idea, and kept my eyes peeled for the sight of someone moving in… however I never did see any hoisting in progress.

Some are subdivided such that a family may own only a single floor of the house.  We saw some cases of the front door being split into two doors – apparently the halls behind them are split, one door leading to the main floor, the other directly to the staircase.  Such arrangements then necessitate mini home owners associations, as the different families need to share the maintenance costs for the front stairs, the stairwell, and the roof.  I guess in Amsterdam it is typical that the land is leased from the city – rather than owned with the house.

After just a short time looking around the canals, you quickly get the impression that the buildings all seem to be leaning one way or another!  I chalked that up to ancient architecture, but it turns out that is only partially correct.  Some houses, notably this pair,
have foundations that are failing.  The pilings that they sit upon were not driven all the way down into the swampy ground.  The portion that is exposed to air, has a tendency to rot away, and thus they have settled unevenly.

But it turns out that the much more common leaning front wall of the house is designed intentionally!  For, if you wanted to hoist your belongings up the outside of your house, it would be advantageous to have the top of the front wall leaning out over the foot.  Clever, them danes. 

On the bus back to the hotel -- LOOK, our first windmill!  This is an industrial mill, grinding the grains for the brewery you can't see below.  As opposed to the ones out on the dykes, pumping water out.

After our tour, we had a couple of free hours, so we headed out for the Dam Square which was a few blocks away.  Passed the very ornate Central Railway station, and this very popular canal side cafe.

Tons of crowds out, but we window shopped, and in the case of the Old Amsterdam Cheese shop, entered to taste some of their wares.

Dam Square is the commenoration of the dam across the Amstel river built in the 13th century to prevent flooding of the city -- thus the origin of the name Amsterdam.  The Royal Palace sits here as well, the "Koninkijk Palace".  Just a few days before our visit, the King of the Netherlands had his 50th birthday, which was a big celebration.  Many of the oranged themed decorations were still hanging around the city.

Dam Square turned out to be the perfect place for a picnic lunch.  To explain, I have to back up a bit to our airline reservations on the way over.  We booked with United, but it was operated by Lufthansa.  Not so unusual.  But I did think it was quite odd that all of our itinerary information said that there would be no meals on this transatlantic flight…!  I mean – it was a super deal, so I figured the meal was just one frill they were doing away with.  So we had purposefully gotten some sandwiches-to-go from RISE Bakery before leaving.

Only… we DID get dinner and breakfast on the plane.  Hum.  So now the sandwiches were just sorta just coming along for the ride, to Europe.  :-/  We fixed that problem, and they were delicious!

Heading back to hotel in time to transfer to the boat, we again walked back up the canal we had walked the night prior.  Just so beautiful, in any light!

It was such a gorgeous Sunday afternoon - there were traffic jams every which way you turned!

Look at that grin!  Can't walk through town without stopping for a quick pint.

(Here's a link to my blog's home page so that you can navigate to other posts about our trip)

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