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Funny, the people you run into in Munich

July 10th, 2009 Comments off

We spent the day Friday in Munich. We left behind our frustrations with Mobi. Hey, this is how memories are made: renting motorhomes that fall apart on you. In Munich, we had an awesome time and met some wonderful people. And you know how that feeling when you think you’ve met someone before? Wait for this story.

Downtown Munich is the perfect definition of a city that has a “there” there, with a marvelous beer garden/outdoor plaza/farmer’s market (every possible meat, fish, vegetable, fruit, herb and flower) and thousands of people in a good mood. And why not? They’re all drinking beer, even the musicians!

To be sure, Munich has its grand government buildings, spectacular cathedrals and museums, and a chic retail district. In the course of two or three blocks, we passed stores for Versace, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Dior, Chanel, Georgio Armani, Hermes, Ralph Lauren and Valentino. (No Costco, but maybe out in the suburbs…)

We started our walking tour in the beer gardens, and ended there. Seating was congested, but two other couples invited us to join them. Dominique and Jean, from Lyon, France, and Theo and Gudrun, from Solingen, Germany, were friends through the marriage of their two children, and were anxious to give us advice on which cities to visit in Switzerland.

When they left, another couple took their seats: Deon and Elsie, from South Africa, who  had just spent two weeks in Prague. They were especially happy to speak with Americans and after 30 minutes we had exchanged e-mails and promises (that we hope to keep) to visit them in their country. “We love American people,” Elsie said. “We are Obama fans,” Deon said, commenting specifically on how he admires our president’s efforts to tackle the economic nightmares. “It’s hitting everyone, everywhere,” he said. (And he should know; he is an investments advisor.) “Obama, he’s something special. His heart and soul is there.”

They each remarked how the world seemed to be getting smaller, what with technology and the growing adventurous spirit of people to travel.

As we all stood up to leave, and they made the first move to hug us, I heard a voice that seemed amazingly familiar. “Tom!”

It was a coworker, Ulf, a researcher for In Business Las Vegas, the leading business publication in Las Vegas (and a sister publication to the Las Vegas Sun, where I work). Ulf was visiting his parents, Gerda and Arno, who live in Klais, about 90 minutes outside of Munich.  He arrived a few days ago for a week’s stay. He had been hiking and today came into Munich. And there he was, sitting five feet from us! Weird. Really really weird.

Meanwhile, an Australian friend of Daughter (they connected in Dutch language classes; in Antwerp) who knew we were going to be in Munich today text-messaged her, suggesting we eat at the restaurant her aunt and uncle, Rosemary and Volker, operate a few miles from downtown Munich. What the heck, so we took the underground to the neighborhood, found the restaurant — it specializes in meals featuring potatoes as the entree — and had a wonderful dinner.

Today was a good day, enjoying a beautiful city filled with wonderful people, making new friends and finding a coworker  in a crowd of happy beer drinkers thousands of miles from home! Did I say it was weird? In a very very good way.

Tomorrow, on to Prague….

The morning after

July 9th, 2009 Comments off

Here in Munich, it is 8 a.m. Friday, and I’m hoping today goes better than yesterday. I’m sitting in the little internet room alongside the reception desk of Munich’s big, semi-urban campground. Hundreds and hundreds of camping vehicles are here, separated by class: cars with tents, vans and small motorhomes (that’s us), pull-trailers and large motorhomes.

Outside, it’s maybe 65 degrees, drizzly, grey sky. It reminds me of June gloom along the California coast.

An amazing assortment of people are walking past my window, from their camping units to the bus stop outside the gate where they can grab a bus to the underground to take them to the heart of the city. (We are about 2 blocks from the city’s zoo, on the edge of downtown.)

The people walking by are mostly casually dressed, carrying backpacks for a day of adventure in the city. But a surprising number of people men are in coats and ties, with nametags and carrying briefcases, as if they are going to work or to a convention.  I suppose it is possible that in Europe, to save money, men go to conventions and rather than stay at a hotel — say, the Bellagio or Venetian or Mandalay Bay — they travel by motor home.  I doubt these finely-dressed men crawled out of a sleeping bag in a tent, though.

So this is the morning after yesterday’s series of small disasters that just took the spirit out of us by last night, when I posted the long story about all that went wrong.  I’ll recap:

* The side door cannot be locked from inside because when we do, the key cylinder thingy twists on the outside and a key won’t go in, and it freezes until you manhandle it loose.

* The wastewater tank valve is broken, so when we use sink water, it immediately spills onto the ground, rather than collecting in a tank for proper disposal at a dump station. (This is not the toilet, which has its own tank and is working fine.)

* We finally figured out why our hot water wasn’t working: the plumbing was reversed on the sink, and “cold” was really hot and “hot” was cold. For the gallons of water we wasted waiting for the hot water to pour out, we were draining our tank. And last night, when we finally realized that we should have turned the spigot to “cold” to get hot water, we got maybe 30 seconds of hot water before we drained our 100-liter holding tank. So this morning, we have no water.

* Putting more water in the tank should not be a problem, except that we have to disconnect our electricity line and drive into the heart of the campground where the “water house” is, to hook up our hose. And that gets us to the other problem from yesterday: the cap for the inlet pipe is frozen to the inlet pipe, and so when we turn the cap, we are turning the entire pipe. That means the only way to put water into the tank is to access the water tank from inside (beneath a seat cushion) and drag a hose inside Mobi. That’s a pain in the rump.

All of this follows our most costly incident, which also occurred yesterday:  Making a turn too tightly, and rubbing the side of the Mobi against a gate pipe, gouging the right side of the Mobi for about five feet, and tearing off a piece of plastic molding around the back right tire. I’m distressed now that the dealership will argue that they should keep our entire security deposit to cover the repair. This puts me in a bad mood.

These events all occurred yesterday. Not a good day. But we can focus on the good times, too: the great dinner Daughter cooked last night — steaks with mushroom sauce, fresh French-cut green beans, risotto. Walking the streets of small German towns and watching children play in school yards.  Meeting the cousins of my health coach, the Traub family that owns two bakeries in the Black Forest region of Germany. And meeting Mia and Adelin, the Belgian couple who helped us with our water problems yesterday morning, and Ute and Ernst, from Hanover, who helped us figure out the hot-water problem last night.

Funny how people can make international connections, and become instant friends. We exchanged e-mail addresses and who knows if we will run into each other again. But now we can say we have friends in Europe, people who will help us out when they see our distress.

As I sit here, more people are streaming out to catch the morning buses. Here comes a family — mom, dad, two young kids, all dressed very nicely, he in a suit. And another couple holding a basket between them. I can’t tell if it is a picnic basket or a small basinet. I wonder where they’re going. And what’s it like waking up in a campground and putting on a coat-and-tie?

Me, I haven’t worn a tie now for a week. And I’ve only shaved once. Now, that is camping.