Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Part One: Europe!

The Europe plan came about because a dear friend of mine, Jan, invited me to come skiing with his family in the Austrian Alps. There was a TINY window for this excursion, and since I hadn’t been to Europe before, I jumped at it. It was a little last minute detour from my Africa itinerary, but a very welcome one!  The plan was to fly from Chicago to Frankfurt on the 15th, then fly from Frankfurt to Innsbruck, Switzerland after a tight plane change. I then had a car waiting for me in Switzerland (of course Jan booked the VW Mini just for laughs!) which I was to drive to Lech, Austria to meet Jan and the crew for 2 nights of fun. What actually happened was the plane rides went as planned, but then an avalanche blocked me from getting to Lech via car for a day. I also realized in Innsbruck that Europeans only drive manual transmissions, so I had to get upsold to the “Luxury” Ford minivan (the VW Mini joke was a bust) they had with an automatic transmission....which ran out of battery the next day, so Jan had to drive out to escort me the 25 km to Lech from my hotel on the other side of the mountain after jumping my car. That sucked. And it cost an extra 100 Euro. Bah. But it was the only auto-trans they had so I couldn’t be choosy.

 I was supposed to be in Lech, Austria with Jan and the fam for about 36 hours: from 1pm on 2/16 to 6am 2/18.  That turned into a roughly 12 hour stay due to an avalanche. The avalanche in Austria on the 16th postponed my arrival into Lech, so I had to stay in St. Anton for the night while they cleared the roads of snow. We stayed at the Hotel Rote Wand in Lech, Austria. It is an amazingly swank multi-building complex set up in the mountains. Look up for some pics and such. Swank really is an understatement, and if it weren’t for Jan and his family’s generosity, this wanderlust gent would not have ever even seen the place. I arrived too late on the 17th to go skiing, so I went sledding with his 2 wonderfully funny preteenie-weenie kids and their buddy. If you have never done Alpine sledding…..yea, think about it. It sounds like a great idea, but it really is just an expeditious way to break your coccyx, get several mouthfuls of snow, and practice your German swear words.

I decided to check out the outdoor pool before dinner. The indoor pool was nice…the outdoor pool was pimptastic. Yea, I said it. In 2012. I said “pimptastic” *cue playing of Nelly’s 2004 ‘Pimp Juice.’ Imagine the Alps in the background,  blue led-lit heated pool, with walls of snow 10 feet high on either side…all to myself! It was amazing.

I spent the evening in the hotel restaurant, enjoying a ridiculously amazing 8 course meal. The Europeans know how to take their time when they eat, and they have an impeccable attention to detail in their epicurean affairs. Imagine small plates of intricately crafted delicacies, paired with amazing service and a great ambience…..later you will see why this is the last time I experienced this for some time.

Following this dinner of over 30 cheeses and preserves, lemon pie, fish, lobster bisque, pasta, and wine (LOVED IT!), Jan and his coterie retired to the hotel bar to have some very fine liquers to see me off. Good conversation, great drinks, and many laughs at the precious little Emma (Jan and Frauke’s littlest baby who spent the evening regaling the pub crawlers with her version of a jig…as only a 1 year old can!).  I decided to drive straight to Innsbruck to make my 6am flight to Vienna, then back to Frankfurt, then off to Addis Ababa. It was 3 am, and I had only about 10 hours of sleep over the past 3 days.

My first trip alone on the Autobahn was fun! I dont recommend driving in foreign countries, after an avalanche, at 3am, going 160 in a rental car.....but if you have to, it can be fun! Just dont play Coldplay like I did at puts you to sleep. I changed it to a new Anthony Hamilton album I picked up and was jamming to a duet he had with Keri Hilson to keep me up. If you have never driven with me, then you should know that I sing at the top of my lungs when I drive. Life is a party, after all! I was definitely doing about 160km/hr on the way there, as I couldn’t tell which of the German signs were speed signs, parking signs, or street names. I figured as long as I went slower than the guy ahead of me and faster than the guy behind me I was fine. I made it to Innsbruck (after a quick stop for some last minute german chocolate wafers to accompany me to Ethiopia) with about 30 minutes before takeoff. Bah! After some loud complaining and looks of bewilderment as I saw over 200 people in line to check in, I made it to the front with 5 minutes to takeoff….this was not good! I had a security agent escort me to the front of the baggage clearance line, and ran to the gate, then out of the airport across the airstrip with my bags to board the plane. After a cup of espresso and a delicious chocolate Manner wafer from the flight attendant, I was back on my way to Frankfurt to begin the second leg of my journey! Ethiopia bound!

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