Locos Dos – A Trip to Germany, Gays vs. Trains

Locos Dos –  A Trip to Germany, Gays vs. Trains

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My wife, Susan — sometimes but very rarely referred to as Mrs. Jesse Bishop Gay III — and I recently visited Germany. It was a whirlwind 16-day tour of Munich, Baden-Baden and Cologne, plus a couple of days in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. We’ve always been drawn to Europe, having previously visited Austria, Spain, the Czech Republic and other biggies. We get a kick out of seeing really old buildings with great histories.

With so many of its historic buildings destroyed during World War II, the lure of Germany was to just experience the country. Having many German friends here in Costa Rica — who seem like very nice people — along with a strong socio-anthropological interest in beer consumption, we decided it was time to check it out.

Our 18-hour journey from San José, including a five-hour stopover in Madrid, eventually got us to Munich. For our first trip via Spain’s flagship Iberia airline, the price was right but the service underwhelming. It was just okay, though not nearly as bad as any of the U.S. carriers.

Our usual approach to visiting Europe involves booking our flight and accommodations months in advance. Then after arriving at our hotel, we just start walking in one direction and keep going. For the most part, this has worked quite well, with adequate allowances for screw-ups. Our German trip pretty much followed suit.

We spent about a week in Munich just to get acclimated. Our hotel was in a residential area and not particularly tourist-oriented. With plenty of experience using subway transportation, from the gorgeous Paris Métro to the dingy London Tube, we rated the Munich subway as not exactly sexy but very well organized and extremely efficient.

Our intention for this European trip had been to travel around the country instead of sticking to more or less one location. We’d been hearing for years that Germany was ideal for train travel, so after quickly mastering the Munich subway, we were looking forward to our trips to Baden-Baden and then Cologne.

Our self-assurance quickly gave way to bewilderment. Until now, our German experience had been very English-friendly. However, all communication relating to the train system is in German, with every word containing at least 11 letters. Our first trip was arranged by a friendly Croatian desk clerk who told us to ride the “regional” train to Baden-Baden. It would be a bit slower but we could really “see” Germany. What he didn’t mention was that we’d have to change trains four times. That meant dragging our three overstuffed, outdated suitcases through a train station in Dusseldorf or Manheim, frantically try to catch a train leaving in three minutes.

In Baden-Baden we found out that a direct express train could have got us there three times faster. What we eventually learned was that the express trains are actually two connected trains with the same routing numbers, which could have prevented more frantic dragging and missing. It was only the kindness of English-speaking Germans, who recognized we were obviously two dumb tourists, that got us through the trials and tribulations of the rail system. We never got any better with it, but the destinations were well worth the journey.

Baden-Baden, bordering the Black Forest, was like a fairy tale, with old castles and thermal baths first used by the Romans. The site was spared significant damage during the wars and saved for use by the French occupation forces.

We probably had the most fun in Cologne, the beautiful city straddling the Rhine with one of the greatest cathedrals in Europe. Yes, we climbed to the top of its twin bell towers and yes, we found a Bavarian Bier Haus that served delicious pig’s knuckles.

I should mention our other reason for visiting Germany: BEER! We need not have worried about no beer being left when we arrived the day after Oktoberfest ended. An amazing variety of phenomenal cerveza was readily available wherever we went! Enough said.