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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Munich, September 2012 – Oktoberfest

I flew into Munich on September 25 for my 8th Oktoberfest. It has become a tradition I look forward to every year.

I stayed at Le Meridien again this year, conveniently located across from the main train station and between the center city and the Oktoberfest grounds. After arriving Thursday morning, I checked into the hotel and immediately made my way to the town center to buy a third pair of Lederhosen. My other two pair were a bit too big, and I wanted a nicer pair. Then, after dropping my purchases off at the hotel, I made my way to the Englischer Garten, one of the largest public parks in the world, to meet my friend Yuri at the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) for lunch. 

Chinesischer Turm at Englischer Garten

That night, my friend Julien from Paris arrived and we had dinner at the Hofbräuhaus. It was his first time in Munich, so I thought the Hofbräuhaus was in order. 

Earlier that evening, I noticed that my friend Jakub from Prague had checked into the Munich train station on Facebook. I got in touch with him, and he met us outside the Hofbräuhaus. A few years before, Jonathan and I went to Prague before Oktoberfest and I randomly ran into him, having met him on a previous visit to Prague. It's a small world.

On Friday, Julien and I headed back to the C&A in the town center for him to buy his Lederhosen. Afterwards, we walked over to the Viktualienmarkt, a large outdoor market with lots of great food. (I'd had a weisswurst there the day before.)


For lunch Friday, we went to one of my favorite biergartens at Augustiner Keller. 

At Augustiner Keller

Augustiner Keller Biergarten

Friday evening, Julien and I took the train out to Erding, the home of Erdinger beer. We met four friends Liz, Ed, and Loren there for dinner at the Erdinger Weissbräu. Erding was a very charming village.


The next morning we went to the opening parade. I had seen parts of it before, but usually after it had started and from very far away. This time we were early and had a front row seat.

After leaving the parade, we took the train to Dachau. Definitely not as festive as the rest of Oktoberfest, but something that was important to do. For that reason, I'll have to write about that one in an entry all to itself.

Needless to say, after the Dachau, we needed a beverage, so we headed back to Munich, changed into our Lederhosen, and headed down to the Oktoberfest grounds, the Theresienwiese.

We walked into Bräurosl Festzelt and found a couple of spots by some fun folks from New Zealand who were living in London. 

With our New Zealand friends
We left there to meet out my work friends Dave and Jay, and we once again ran into Jakub from Prague. It was a crazy night.

The next morning (Sunday) we headed back to the Oktoberfest grounds to Bräurosl where I caught up with other friends from work, Mike and Jeff. I also ran into lots of folks I had met last year from DC and London:

We left there to meet Ed, Liz, Loren and the gang at Augustiner Keller for lunch, then back to Oktoberfest to ride some rides.  

A yearly favorite, the Toboggan
After rides, we entered Hacker Festzelt for our annual tent reservation:

Hacker Festzelt
Monday we met Ed, Liz, Loren, Mark and Lisa at Hirschgarten, the largest biergarten in Munich. We had a great afternoon, telling stories and laughing. Then we headed back to the Oktoberfest grounds for dinner at Augustiner Festzelt and some more rides before calling this year's Oktoberfest a grand success.

Augustiner Festzelt 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site


As festive as Oktoberfest is, Dachau was as powerfully sobering. Going to visit Dachau, the site of the first of Germany's Nazi concentration camps, was something I've long wanted to do because I felt it was something I should do. It is important to remember and to realize that, yes, it did happen, and yes, if we do not protect our individual liberties and remain strong, this is something that humans have the capacity to once again inflict.

The "Jourhaus" --SS offices and gatehouse entering the concentration camp

Entering the main gate. The inscription reads "Work makes you free."
I came to Dachau expecting that it would "not be that bad." After all, it was not one of the concentration camps used for mass extermination.

I was wrong.

What I learned there was in some ways worse. While people were not marched unwillingly into gas chambers, over 30,000 people died there. Some, from the intolerable conditions, others from being hung, or shot, and yes, some died in the gas chamber there. Some were worked to death, digging ditches, refilling them, and digging them again. Some died from torturous medical experiments conducted upon them, such as high altitude simulations and low temperature experiments. Most died from disease outbreaks and malnutrition
While a great number of Jews were sent there, I was surprised that many more were political prisoners, including Christian clergy. Thousands of Catholic priests and bishops were imprisoned there.

Inside the Bunker

Firing Squad wall
The grounds where thousands would gather each day for roll call
Be prepared to spend half a day at Dachau. The exhibition is incredible, taking you through the camp through the eyes of the prisoners who lived there as well as those who liberated the camp. My favorite exhibition was on temporary display -- drawings of Vlasto Kopàč, who was a prisoner who surreptitiously drew life in the camp.

The most disturbing part of the visit was seeing the crematorium. There are actually two -- the "new crematorium" was built because the old one could not handle the thousands and thousands of bodies that needed disposal. The crematorium was also used as a place to hang prisoners from the rafters. There was also a galleys just outside the crematorium. In a room adjacent to the picture below was the gas chamber. I felt absolutely sick to the stomach walking through this room to the gas chamber. Even more sickening were the pictures there of bodies piled up, waiting to be burned, or those of prisoners pushing bodies into the very ovens we were standing beside.

The "new" crematorium

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Peru, the Incan Trail, and Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu at sunrise from the Sun Gate

What an amazing trip to Peru! The four day Incan Trail to Machu Picchu was one of the most difficult things I've ever done physically, but it was well worth it.

The trip started on August 23rd when I left Atlanta for Lima, checking in for my first time at the new Atlanta International Terminal, hanging out at the Sky Club there awaiting my flight. Arriving in Lima, I quickly retrieved my bags and walked just across the street to the Ramada. I had briefly considered sleeping in the airport for my 6:55 am flight -- thank goodness I did not! The airport was crazy. The Ramada was actually connected to the airport by a Sky Bridge which was very convenient. Plus, I was upgraded to a suite. They offered a welcome beverage--a pisco sour--which I gladly accepted.

I woke up at 4:30 am, showered and checked in for my flight to Cusco, then went back to the hotel for breakfast.  Security was short and easy, but the plane was delayed. It was close to 9:00 before we took off from Lima. The plane boarded from both the front and the back in no apparent order. Kind of crazy.


Landing in Cusco on Friday morning (August 24), my hotel transfer wasn't there because the plane was so delayed. I called, and they camed immediately. The Hotel Marqueses was amazing! It had been a 16th Century Colonial House. I would definitely stay there again! There was a beautiful courtyard, and my room felt palatial. It even had a fireplace.

Inside my room
Inside my room 

Courtyard fountain at night
Courtyard looking towards my room
When I arrived, I met Karol who was one of the few in our group I didn't know before. She would become a dear friend during the trip. I had lunch with Debra, including a salad appetizer of avocado  stuffed with chicken and tomatoes. I also had cuy horno, known around these parts as roasted guinea pig. The cuy didn't have much meat, and I didn't like the skin. But it had a pretty good flavor. After going back to the room, I walked over to Paddy's Pub, the highest Irish owned Irish Pub in the world, where (of course) the rest of the gang was hanging out. It was just off of the main square, Plaza De Armas.

Cathedral in the main square, Plaza de Armas
The hotel served coca tea in the courtyard to help adjust to the elevation. I drank that every time I went back to the hotel. That afternoon I walked with Davey to United Mice, our tour operator, to pay for the remainder of the trip and to do paperwork.

Dinner that night was a a really good restaurant called Pachapapa where the best thing that I had was alpaca. This turned out to be one of my favorite foods in Peru, but especially on this night. Dave Blaney ordered the Cuy there.

Cuy (Guinea Pig)

On Saturday morning, I slept until 9:00 in my very dark room where I could hear the fountain just outside my wooden door and window shutters. We walked around town, and went to the Qorikancha, the Temple of the Sun that was the center of the Incan Universe. After the Spaniards arrived, this became the Church of Santo Domingo.

Terraced Courtyard of Qorikancha
Leaving Qorikancha, I bought a couple of empanadas for a little over a dollar each(both pollo and carne) and bought an alpaca sweater. Walking back, I ran into a random parade:

Dinner that evening was at Tunupa, on the second floor of a building on the main square. It was a good buffet with cultural dancers and music.

Just across from Tunupa was a bar called The Crown 1650.  There, RJ, Nicola, Karol and I met a bartender named Norberto who let us take pictures behind the bar. He had several different infusions of pisco including eucalyptus and coca leaves. Of course, I had to try them.  On leaving, Karol and I made plans to meet Norberto on Sunday to tour Cusco.

The next morning, there was a huge, strange parade-- lots of soldiers, nurses, men in suits, marching bands, and priests marching by as Karol and I watched from the Paddy's.

After the parade and some lunch, we met Norberto to start our tour of Cusco. Scenes from the day:

Norberto and I in front of the statue of Pachacuti, the great Incan leader. 
We climbed to the top of the monument of Pachacuti where I took this shot
With Karol at the remains of Saqsaywaman
Saqsaywaman. Note how the rocks are perfectly fitted with not mortar.
Cusco from Saqsaywaman
Christo Blanco, overlooking the city of Cusco
Karol and I at Q'engo ("the labyrinth") on the sacrificial altar 

The remains of Pukapukara

The remains of Tambomachay - the "princess baths' 
Watching the sun set over Cusco 
Dinner at El Tablon 
The Incan Trail

On Monday, August 27, we begin our Incan Trail trek. The bus from United Mice, our expedition company, came to pick us up at 4:00 am. We drove to Ollantaytambo, where we had breakfast and started our four day adventure.

Start of the Trail
Scenes from Day 1:

Cloud forest

Finally near the camp site around 6:00 pm after starting the day at 4:00 am

Tired folks ready for dinner

The next morning, wake up call was at 5:00 am.

The start of Day 2

Some of the many, many, many steps along the trail 

Me at Dead Woman's Pass -- Warmiwanuscca -- our highest elevation at 13,776 feet. 

The group shot at Dead Woman's Pass
Me with our guides Milton, Fabrizio, and Adolfo at Runkuraqay

At Runkuraqay

The remains of Runkuraqay

It felt like day 2 of the trek was spent walking through the clouds. Everything was hazy and cloudy. While the views weren't quite as spectacular, there was a beauty to the cold mist.

The remains of Sayacmarca on Day 2 of the Trek (elevation of 11,472 feet.). This was about 17 miles into the total hike and about 7 miles for the day.


Arriving at the camp site for night 2, we were greeted by lots of annoying, teeny mosquitos. Between this and and the damp cold, this night may have been the most miserable.
Camp -- Night 2
Day three, however, saw the clouds lift. We woke up around 5:45 am to witness stunning scenery and an amazing sunrise.

More scenes from Day 3:

Puyupatamarca remains. 11,930 feet.  

The remains of Winaywayna -- 8,682 feet. 

We campsite the third night was by the beautiful terraces of Winaywayna. This was really cool and amazing that there were fountains there that still worked. Milton, our guide, explained to us there the Incan Cross:

Milton, our guide, illustrated the Incan Cross in the sand -- three rules: Don't be lazy, Don't steal, and Don't Lie. The Condor representing the sky or upper world (Hana Pacha), the Puma, representing the earth or everyday world (Kay Pacha) and the snake, representing the underworld (Unin Pacha). One corner also represents the values of love, knowledge and work.

That night we recognized all the porters and guides before going to sleep early under a beautiful full moon. Wake up call for the final day was 2:00 am so we could be at the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu for sunrise.

The "Gringo Killers" -- steps leading up to Intipunku -- the Sun Gate. 

Me at the Sun Gate after the sun had illuminated Machu Picchu below
After touring Machu Picchu, we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and had a celebratory lunch at a restaurant called Machu Pisco. It was great to sleep in a real bed and to have a hot shower.
Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes was a fun little village - lots of bars and restaurants, all fighting over you for their happy hour specials.

The next morning, we went back to Machu Picchu as we had tickets to climb Huayna Picchu. They let in 200 people at 7:00 am and another 200 at 10:00 am. I was number 95. I had come close to not doing this climb after four days of hiking, but it was really awesome! It felt good to do it without gear and poles. There were really amazing views and it was a really fun trail.

Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Looking back at the Sun Gate from Huayna Picchu

Me at the top of Huayna Picchu

Climbing down. After down, there was still a lot more 'up.'
Moon Temple remains on the way down
Inside the Moon Temple

Climbing down

Me at the summit of Huchuy Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the background

After climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu, we went to the top of the smaller Huchuy Picchu, which still had excellent views and a nice part where one needed a rope to climb up to the top.

We spent the afternoon with a nice lunch at The Treehouse -- totally awesome -- followed by drinks in the cute little town of Aguas Calientes.

Leaving that night, we took the train to a bus back to Cusco-- a bit easier than our trip to Machu Picchu.

Train back to the start -- Ollantaytambo 
On the last night, after arriving back at the Hotel Marqueses in Cusco, Karol and I returned to visit our bartender Norberto and had a celebratory beer.

Back in Cusco -- one last night at The Crown
The next morning, we flew back to Lima where we met the Lima Hash House Harriers. We took a bus with them out to Santa Eulalia, a couple of hours outside of Lima, where we ran an awesome trail, had a great dinner, and amazingly (after worrying all day) made it back to Lima to fly out on a 12:40 am flight back to Atlanta.

On the Lima Hash on the last afternoon in Peru
All of my annotated photographs can be found here

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