What to Know Before You Go…Chapter 2

Chapter 2  The Internet, Web Resources, and the Travel Agency

As you start your trip planning and you are trying to determine where you want to go, use the Internet. There are a number of travel sites, but the best way, in my opinion, is to use Google and put in such things as “vacationing in Australia, or Europe, or France, or the Caribbean, etc”. Many site will come up and you can take your time and look at all of the many places that you can see and things that you can do. On our recent trip to Australia, we knew we were going to Cairns as our first step on our journey, so my wife Googled Cairns. From Cairns, which is north on Sydney, we were able to go out to the Great Barrier Reef, rode the train up to and through the Rain Forest, then rode the Skytrain back down over the Rain Forest to sea level, and back to the city of Cairns, which in itself is well worth seeing. We found all of this on the internet….then went to our agent, who had also suggested these attractions, and made the ticket arrangements.

And, you can use a site like Expedia to get an idea of flights into almost any destination in the world. They will give you prices and times, although the prices are often on bad connecting flights , or bad times, but it gives you a very good idea of when and where you can go. Trip Advisor is another good one, as this give first hand experiences from travelers.

These sites, and many others, are great for travel information, but not always good for ticketing. As I have said, and will say many more times, the local travel agent can get the same, if not better, price….they can give you the experiences of other travelers, and they can do the “hard work” for  you, such as the reservations and ticketing. That is their job. But, you can do the pre-planning by using the Internet to get your general idea of where, when, why, and what you want to do.

A word about the Travel Agency. Only the good ones have survived the Internet. And they have survived because they can offer a service that the Internet cannot. As with almost any professional services these days, you can get almost any service on the web. But, you get what you pay for. I have planned and taken trips using nothing but the internet, with sites like www.hotels.com, and  www.expedia.com, and they were good trips. But, for the most part, I was “flying by the seat of my pants”. And, when all said and done, did not save a penny. Now we use an Agency exclusively. And, a couple of other factors as to why to use an agency….(1) some are specialists, like with Cruise Lines…(2) many of the agencies are really experienced. :Been there done that”  is true for many and this experience is passed on to you…..(3) Your individual travel agent in an agency will become “your good friend”, and they will have your interest foremost in their mind as they plan for you. This is that valuable factor…and can make the difference in your travels.

Next section is entitled….”Make a List”….and this is one of my favorites, for many do not do this until they get someplace and say, “I should have made a list of these things to bring”. Stay tuned.

Leipzig….continued

This day we had planned to go to Dresden and Meissen, so we set the alarm to get up at 6 AM…the alarm is actually in the TV set, which is the latest in tech and they were in all of the hotels. They are on when you come in and “welcome you” by name…then they had complete menus for not only the TV, but for events in town, radio, etc…and an alarm clock that actually speaks to you when it goes off. We constantly asked ourselves why it is that we do not have these higher tech amenities in the US…good question. In any case, we had hoped to catch the 7:52 AM train to Dresden, but when we got to the station I looked at the board to see that we could catch a later one and still get there when we wanted…so looked around the station some more, had coffee, etc.. then caught the 8:39AM train, which was the ICE for the 1 hour ride. We got off in Dresden, where Audy was with Curt in 1989…and Dresden is rebuilding. This city was leveled in WW II….and is slowly coming back. We transferred to a train to Meissen..and 45 minutes later we got off near the Meissen Porcelain factory. As we walked to the factory, the evidence of the communist rule until 1990 was obvious, as many, many buildings have never been repaired. Very sad. You can only feel sorry for these people, for they had it so bad…and yet the West Germans were rebuilding and doing so well at the same time. The Meissen factory tour was great, in that we got to see the process and heard of the history of the porcelain. Very impressive and well worth it. We walked for awhile in the old areas, then boarded the train back to Dresden…all the while seeing the evidence of the Communist rule and the damage of WW II. Apparently Dresden was quite an industrial area, and towards the end of the war the Allied bombers decided to wipe out what was left of the Third Reich…and they did at Dresden. We got off the train at Dresden and walked around a bit, but the station is not near the castle, so all we could do was see it from the train, for it is on the Elbe River…and is being rebuilt, so we were encouraged. Dresden has not seen the money poured in like in Leipzig, and no doubt it will as it returns to a position of industrial power, for it is a big city. We got the train back and for the first time went through a lot of “flooded” area. We had been seeing this on TV, but hadn’t seen it where we had been until now. Too much warm weather and rain, for this area usually has heavy snow at this time of the year. We got back to Leipzig at 3:30PM..back to the hotel for a nap..and off to the concert at St Thomas Church at 5 PM. We walked out of the hotel and up by St. Nicholas Church which was having a candlelight vigil against the possible war in Iraq…we went in to look at the church, and this is one that is in the process of being restored. Here, as with the St Peters Church we were in yesterday, a lot of the stained glass has not been replaced, along with the new organ, etc. St. Thomas Church has been getting the attention, which is where we were headed. We got a center church seat and the concert began, first on the smaller organ and then this artist, Joanna Stark, moved to the big organ. What a concert, for neither of us has ever heard anything like this. She literally attacked the organ, with an assistant that not only turned pages but went from side to side pulling and adjusting the stops, as well as moving the foot board-foot pedals. Amazing, and what a sound. This was a huge pipe organ, and you could just imagine that this was similar to what Bach played, for these churches were built for these big organs. It was a great concert, and then the organist was joined by a 30-year-old trumpeter for 2 numbers. He played both his trumpet and a flugal horn, and the two of them made beautiful music. What a great evening of music. After the concert we walked back through the old town and back to the hotel…had some dinner, then Audy wanted to go back to this big book store we saw…and eventually got back to the hotel at 8, as the stores close at 8…and everyone is gone shortly thereafter. Another great day…..

 

Leipzig

Our day in Leipzig started with a big breakfast in the Executive Lounge and we left the hotel about 10…riding the tram to the church where we heard there would be a noon concert. We got there early and walked through some back streets to get to the church, and for the first time, got to see the remnants of the East German Russian rule. Pretty sad. Some buildings have been completely redone, and they will be right next to a building that looks as if it will fall down. In the area as we walked to this Lutheran Church (all up to now had been Catholic churches), the remnants of the fireworks were very evident, and in fact, the trashcans at the church were blown up, etc. The concert itself was at a noon vesper, and the artist was a Korean student studying here in Leipzig. It was good, but nothing special, and over at 12:30PM, so we walked out in the area looking for a bathing suit for Audy so that she could go in the sauna at the hotel. We had scheduled a message for her at 5 PM….we could not find a decent bathing suit, so stopped and had some pastries instead…then headed back to the Centrum for our own walking tour of the old city. The first place that we went into was the St. Thomas Church, the church where JS Bach worked as organist for 27 years. As we entered we heard the organ and we were going in during an organ lesson. We sat and listened for 30 minutes, then found that this artist would be giving a concert on Friday night. The lesson itself was interesting, for the teacher would play and then the student, etc…and they were doing some “ wild stuff”. Well, we could tell by the rehearsal that this would be something we did not want to miss…so planned accordingly, but we continued on the tour. The Bach Museum is just outside, along with the statue…Leipzig is also the home of Felix Mendelsohn…so very culturally alive. We continued into the Old Market Square, which is now the New Market Square, with the Baroque buildings next to the modern shops featuring the latest in fashion…etc. A lot of evidence of change since 1989, as Leipzig has been going through massive rebuilding to catch up with the rest of Germany. We walked through one of the many “passages”, that go between the various buildings and feature small shops, restaurants, etc….all out of the weather, etc. Very impressive and attractive, including the bar where Goethe wrote Faust in, etc…a lot of history in our presence. These areas are so attractive that you can spend all day here just looking, but as it was raining harder, we headed back to the tram to go back to the hotel for the massage at 5 PM. After the massage , we had some “dinner” in the klounge, thenb went back kto the Kauphof Galeria still looking for a bathing suit, and no luck. Very expensive to start with, and really nothing that Audy would wear…so we gave it up. We did see all of the stores at night, then went over into the Train Station Mall, which is just like a regular mall, with Gap, Body Shop, etc…and many restaurants. This mall is quite nice, and very new, and a model for other train stations. Actually a lot of fun to walk through, for it is the social center for the entire city. We took time at the Formula 1 display sponsored by Intel and I got into the car but couldn’t handle the pedals since I had my big boots on…but it was fun trying. The photos will illustrate the mall, and the station, which is the latest in design, etc. We got to bed at 9:30 PM….another great day in this beautiful restored city.

 

Munich…..continued

We went down to the Marriott for breakfast and the placed was packed. Apparently, the hotels put together a special package for these holiday, and the place was full. We ordered from the menu…and got much more than we could eat. We walked back to the hotel…and left at 12 to catch the train to Leipzig. We were a little late in leaving, so had to rush to the station, using the U-bahn, but made it with about 5 minutes to spare. We went on to the first car that we saw was first class non-smoking, and as it turned out it was the end car with the engineer, except that the train was going in the opposite direction. This was the new ICE train, and the engineers compartment is like a cockpit, in that he sits at a console with computer screens “wrapped” around him. He is in a highback chair that is adjustable and on air, so that in the event of a bumpy ride his seat does not move. Right behind him is a glass wall, with a door, and then 6 seats, where we sat…then a wall into the next compartment. Within a few minutes we were off, headed towards Augsburg. It was at this time that the train changed directions, and the engineer came up to our car…so we in essence were in the first car…the drivers car, if you will. Pretty exciting, for again, these trains really move, and to watch the engineer control the speeds, etc…very interesting. He used both a cell phone and a console mounted phone, and was continually watching and checking the computer screens. We tried to monitor the speed, but it was hard to see through the glass, but knew we were going fast. Five hours later we arrived in Leipzig after this exciting time for both of us on the ICE. When we got off, the station at Leipzig was almost overwhelming…new, modern, and huge. The largest in Europe, with a full mall below the main station. Wow!. We walked 1 block to the Marriott, and although it was cold, we knew we were going to enjoy Leipzig. We were upgraded to the Executive Level, so had dinner right there…fried zucchini, etc…then went out for a walk in the sludge, as it had snowed and was much colder than in Munich. Back to the room and in bed by 9. A fun day on the train for a kid like me.

 

Munich

I woke up early and went for a walk around the area…a very nice area with many Mercedes and BMW’s parked on the street. This would be a nice residential area in any city…very expensive. We went back down to the Marriott for their breakfast, as the Renaissance served only a buffet. The Marriott was great, where we got a small breakfast for about $5.00..Audy had muesli cereal. We then headed for the BMW Museum in the area of the Olympic Stadium. We got there at 11 and it was closed….many places were closed for New Years Eve Day…so we got the Metro back down town..to the center of Munich…the area known as Marienplatz, where the famous Glockenspiel is surrounded by the big downtown churches, and we both remembered this area. Very pretty, and very, very crowded this morning, with the stores closing at 2 PM. We found that the G’spiel would go off at 5 PM…so walked down to the Galeria Kasthof…a huge 5 story department store. We went up to the 5th floor and had lunch…then Audy walked around and we found the Formula 1 Calendar. We left at 2 and found that there would be a Mass at 5…so walked down the Kaiserstrasse,to the main station to take a day tour for an hour, which was very interesting. Munich has grown into a big city, with not too many “impressive buildings” like other parts of Germany. We were impressed by the pedestrian areas and the big stores, for it is a very cosmopolitan and international area. On Kaiserstrasse, you can find every imaginable shop, from Gucci to the tourist souvenir shops. Big and small, and huge crowds to go with it.

We got back to Marienplatz by 5…and for the first time, ever, we imagined…the glock did not go off. Bummer. We waited for a few minutes and then went over to the Mass…a full church, but a good service with massive organ and trumpet. The overall effect of these big churches when the organ and congregation are singing is almost overwhelming. You can almost feel the music and vibrations in the foundation of the building. Really meaningful, especially for musicians. We tried to find another service that we had read about…but no luck…so headed back to the hotel area for dinner. We stopped at a neighborhood restaurant and as we entered they asked if we had a reservation, which we didn’t. As it turns out, New Year Eve, known as Sylvester, is a big night…and the thing to do is to go out for dinner…then stay up and shoot off fireworks at midnight. After going to bed at 10…we were awakened at midnight with a huge fireworks show right outside the hotel. What happens is that people come out from the apartments to shoot …and it is a big deal. I got up and looked out, and there were probably 200 people right outside our window…all shooting off fireworks, and these are not just sparklers. This is a big night! The next morning I went out and the streets were littered with fireworks debris…almost a mess, as you had to watch where you worked. Overall evaluation of Munich is that it is a big well off city….good to visit…but we had been there before, and probably would not go back until we see everything else there is to see.