Day Five and Six: Train to Germany and Black Forest 

On Sunday, we rode trains to Germany and stayed in a beautiful hotel in the Black Forest near Stuttgart.

After the meet and the party, we bid a fond farewell to everyone and crashed for the night. The next morning (Sunday), our gracious host Rob S. gave us a ride to the train station in Amersfoort and showed us how to read the timetables on the board.

Our pre-purchased train tickets were timed really tight: Six minutes to change trains in Utrecht, and nine minutes to change trains in Frankfurt. I was a little worried about it, but it all came out pretty good in the end. In fact, the Utrecht transfer was so smooth and easy that I hardly even remember doing it.

On the train from Utrecht to Frankfurt, we got to be in one of the "expensive" seats, a cabin with a close-able door. Very nifty. Here's Rachel with some snacks on the little table in the cabin as Germany whizzes by outside.
After the meet and the party, we bid a fond farewell to everyone and crashed for the night. The next morning (Sunday), our gracious host Rob S. gave us a ride to the train station in Amersfoort and showed us how to read the timetables on the board.



Our pre-purchased train tickets were timed really tight: Six minutes to change trains in Utrecht, and nine minutes to change trains in Frankfurt. I was a little worried about it, but it all came out pretty good in the end. In fact, the Utrecht transfer was so smooth and easy that I hardly even remember doing it.



On the train from Utrecht to Frankfurt, we got to be in one of the "expensive" seats, a cabin with a close-able door. Very nifty. Here's Rachel with some snacks on the little table in the cabin as Germany whizzes by outside.

Outside the cabin on our train. I was immensely impressed by these trains, they were electric, very quiet, VERY fast, and ultra-modern. Very clean, lots of glass and wood paneling, very Star Trek Next Generation.

When we arrived at our cabin, there were a couple of strange guys in there, one with dreadlocks, and they weren't being gregarious and friendly the way everyone else we'd met so far had been. The cabin seated six, so we understood that we'd probably be sharing the cabin with someone, but these guys didn't seem to be interested in talking, wouldn't answer us when we asked if they were supposed to be in there, didn't want to help us verify that we had the correct seats, nothing. I was assuming it was the language barrier and went to ask the conductor for help.

When I came back to the cabin, the two guys were re-arranging their bags so we could fit in there, but being weird about it. Then they left the cabin for a while and we didn't see them...
Outside the cabin on our train. I was immensely impressed by these trains, they were electric, very quiet, VERY fast, and ultra-modern. Very clean, lots of glass and wood paneling, very Star Trek Next Generation.



When we arrived at our cabin, there were a couple of strange guys in there, one with dreadlocks, and they weren't being gregarious and friendly the way everyone else we'd met so far had been. The cabin seated six, so we understood that we'd probably be sharing the cabin with someone, but these guys didn't seem to be interested in talking, wouldn't answer us when we asked if they were supposed to be in there, didn't want to help us verify that we had the correct seats, nothing. I was assuming it was the language barrier and went to ask the conductor for help.



When I came back to the cabin, the two guys were re-arranging their bags so we could fit in there, but being weird about it. Then they left the cabin for a while and we didn't see them...


It turns out the weird guys didn't have tickets at all and were trying to ditch the conductor. Another couple who spoke excellent English as well as German arrived at one of the intermediate stops to share the cabin with us, and that's when the Conductor showed up and collared the two weird guys. He gave them a chance to pay for tickets, but they didn't have enough money, so they tried to beg some cash off the German couple. The conductor spoke to the couple in German, and suggested they shouldn't give these characters any money. In the end, what happened is that the conductor had the police waiting for the freeloaders at the next stop.

After the conductor and the weirdos were gone, the nice German couple explained it all, and also said the weirdos weren't just freeloaders, it was likely that they were trying to bring some pot over from Amsterdam (where it's legal) into Germany (where it's not).

After that all got worked out, we were finally able to relax for the rest of the train ride, and Rachel got a nap.
It turns out the weird guys didn't have tickets at all and were trying to ditch the conductor. Another couple who spoke excellent English as well as German arrived at one of the intermediate stops to share the cabin with us, and that's when the Conductor showed up and collared the two weird guys. He gave them a chance to pay for tickets, but they didn't have enough money, so they tried to beg some cash off the German couple. The conductor spoke to the couple in German, and suggested they shouldn't give these characters any money. In the end, what happened is that the conductor had the police waiting for the freeloaders at the next stop.



After the conductor and the weirdos were gone, the nice German couple explained it all, and also said the weirdos weren't just freeloaders, it was likely that they were trying to bring some pot over from Amsterdam (where it's legal) into Germany (where it's not).



After that all got worked out, we were finally able to relax for the rest of the train ride, and Rachel got a nap.

The only problem with the whole stoners-and-cops fiasco was that it made the train run 12 minutes late.

Our travel agent had told us that the connecting trains would wait if we were late, so don't worry about only having nine minutes to change trains.

But the voice on the intercom kept saying 'your connecting train will not wait' as it announced each stop, and was suggesting alternate train connections for everyone. So we were a little worried we wouldn't make the Frankfurt-to-Stuttgart connection.

Turns out there was no need to worry, because (a) the train managed to make up a lot of the lost time so that we were only nine minutes late instead of 12, (b) the train we were connecting with was on the same platform (i.e., we just had to walk across to its other side), and (c) that train was 20 minutes late itself. Sorted. :-)

Here's a shot of that late train arriving. The train station was as modern and clean as the trains themselves. Very impressive.
The only problem with the whole stoners-and-cops fiasco was that it made the train run 12 minutes late.



Our travel agent had told us that the connecting trains would wait if we were late, so don't worry about only having nine minutes to change trains.



But the voice on the intercom kept saying 'your connecting train will not wait' as it announced each stop, and was suggesting alternate train connections for everyone. So we were a little worried we wouldn't make the Frankfurt-to-Stuttgart connection.



Turns out there was no need to worry, because (a) the train managed to make up a lot of the lost time so that we were only nine minutes late instead of 12, (b) the train we were connecting with was on the same platform (i.e., we just had to walk across to its other side), and (c) that train was 20 minutes late itself. Sorted. :-)



Here's a shot of that late train arriving. The train station was as modern and clean as the trains themselves. Very impressive.

We got to Stuttgart safe and sound, and rented our car. Although it took about an hour to find the rental agency because we walked right by it as we got off the train and didn't double back far enough when searching for it.

Getting out of Stuttgart and onto the correct highway to take us to our destination was a bit tricky. The motorways and exits around central Stuttgart are a little convoluted, and we were just learning how to read the road signs. After another hour of randomly changing directions, we finally got headed in the right direction on the motorway.

We eventually ended up on the right highway into the hills, and after asking directions at a gas station (yes, even the gas station employees spoke enough English to help us), we came to this gorgeous five-star hotel nestled on a hillside.
We got to Stuttgart safe and sound, and rented our car. Although it took about an hour to find the rental agency because we walked right by it as we got off the train and didn't double back far enough when searching for it.



Getting out of Stuttgart and onto the correct highway to take us to our destination was a bit tricky. The motorways and exits around central Stuttgart are a little convoluted, and we were just learning how to read the road signs. After another hour of randomly changing directions, we finally got headed in the right direction on the motorway.



We eventually ended up on the right highway into the hills, and after asking directions at a gas station (yes, even the gas station employees spoke enough English to help us), we came to this gorgeous five-star hotel nestled on a hillside.

The room key to the hotel was the most unusual one I'd ever seen. I wonder if it's common for keys to look like this in Germany? I wonder what the tumbler mechanism looks like.
The room key to the hotel was the most unusual one I'd ever seen. I wonder if it's common for keys to look like this in Germany? I wonder what the tumbler mechanism looks like.

This is the view from the dining room at the hotel, during dinner.

The food they served at this hotel was absolutely mind-bogglingly amazing. Wow. In both quantity and quality, we were not disappointed.

The room was pretty nice, too. Although I have to say, European hotels are odd regarding their sheets and blankets. In both The Netherlands and Germany, there were no top sheets on any of the beds, only the bottom sheet to protect the mattress. All that you slept under was a heavy down comforter, nothing else. This felt funny and took a little getting used to.
This is the view from the dining room at the hotel, during dinner.



The food they served at this hotel was absolutely mind-bogglingly amazing. Wow. In both quantity and quality, we were not disappointed.



The room was pretty nice, too. Although I have to say, European hotels are odd regarding their sheets and blankets. In both The Netherlands and Germany, there were no top sheets on any of the beds, only the bottom sheet to protect the mattress. All that you slept under was a heavy down comforter, nothing else. This felt funny and took a little getting used to.

The next morning, we awoke late for breakfast, and the hotel actually called our room wondering where we were, they missed us at breakfast. At first they spoke to us in German, then tried French (based on our last name looking French even though it's Italian), and finally got the message through in English.

Since we weren't ready to come down yet, they brought the breakfast up to our room. :-)

Later, we took a walk in the woods around the hotel. In this first photo, you see a barren spot in the middle of the forest. This is actually damage from Hurricane Lothar in 1999. Yes, as in 'I am Lothar of the hill people.'

Sorry. Old Mike Myers SNL reference. :-)

The hotel had some aerial photos of the damage in 1999, and it was interesting to see how the hurricane only did random spot-damage to the forest, while leaving other areas unscathed.
The next morning, we awoke late for breakfast, and the hotel actually called our room wondering where we were, they missed us at breakfast. At first they spoke to us in German, then tried French (based on our last name looking French even though it's Italian), and finally got the message through in English.



Since we weren't ready to come down yet, they brought the breakfast up to our room. :-)



Later, we took a walk in the woods around the hotel. In this first photo, you see a barren spot in the middle of the forest. This is actually damage from Hurricane Lothar in 1999. Yes, as in 'I am Lothar of the hill people.'



Sorry. Old Mike Myers SNL reference. :-)



The hotel had some aerial photos of the damage in 1999, and it was interesting to see how the hurricane only did random spot-damage to the forest, while leaving other areas unscathed.

The path we were walking along seemed to actually be an old disused road from many years ago. It had old wooden road signs and crossroads and everything, like you see in old World War II movies.
The path we were walking along seemed to actually be an old disused road from many years ago. It had old wooden road signs and crossroads and everything, like you see in old World War II movies.

It was a particularly beautiful day, just the right temperature, and I took a lot of pictures of the flora that day. We had decided to just relax that day, with the walk in the woods being the most major event of the day.

I'm only subjecting you to a small percentage of the nature pics I took on that day. :-)
It was a particularly beautiful day, just the right temperature, and I took a lot of pictures of the flora that day. We had decided to just relax that day, with the walk in the woods being the most major event of the day.



I'm only subjecting you to a small percentage of the nature pics I took on that day. :-)

Another one for the photography class final.
Another one for the photography class final.

We tried to look up the translation of this sign in our German dictionary, but it was no help. I think it was trying to tell us not to cross-breed sheep with eagles.

(After we got back to the US, we Babelfished it, and it merely means 'Wildlife Preserve')
We tried to look up the translation of this sign in our German dictionary, but it was no help. I think it was trying to tell us not to cross-breed sheep with eagles.



(After we got back to the US, we Babelfished it, and it merely means 'Wildlife Preserve')

Couldn't get the butterfly to hold still. :-)

To give you an idea of how nice this place was... That photo was taken in the parking lot of the hotel.
Couldn't get the butterfly to hold still. :-)



To give you an idea of how nice this place was... That photo was taken in the parking lot of the hotel.

This is what the countryside of Germany looked like the whole time we were there. Everywhere we went, rolling green hills and fields, deep green forests, and tiny storybook towns. Absolutely gorgeous.

One thing I was trying to capture in this picture that didn't really come through was the windmill. It's the classic scale problem, something that you consider to be huge in real life might be just a speck in a photograph.

Throughout Germany, there were these gigantic modern windmills, gleaming white and high tech, looking like giant propellers dotting the landscape, each seemed to be over a hundred feet tall. When I took this photo, there was one of these windmills that totally dominated the horizon. In this photo, it was so small you would hardly notice it. It doesn't help that the sky is overexposed and washes it out completely.
This is what the countryside of Germany looked like the whole time we were there. Everywhere we went, rolling green hills and fields, deep green forests, and tiny storybook towns. Absolutely gorgeous.



One thing I was trying to capture in this picture that didn't really come through was the windmill. It's the classic scale problem, something that you consider to be huge in real life might be just a speck in a photograph.



Throughout Germany, there were these gigantic modern windmills, gleaming white and high tech, looking like giant propellers dotting the landscape, each seemed to be over a hundred feet tall. When I took this photo, there was one of these windmills that totally dominated the horizon. In this photo, it was so small you would hardly notice it. It doesn't help that the sky is overexposed and washes it out completely.

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