Monthly Archives: July 2012

The other Tour de France: Day 13

Colmar to Munich

Route: Colmar to Munich

Total Miles: 248 miles (400 kilometers)

Driving Time: 5.5 hours

We’re home! We pulled into Munich today at about 7:30 p.m. after one final day of driving. Today’s leg was mostly through Germany and took us through the Black Forest and along beautiful Lake Constance.

Before hitting the road, Katie and I joined her mom for a trip to Riquewihr, France. It’s a town that Katie had read about — mainly because of its famous Christmas store. It was only a 6-mile drive from Colmar, so we decided to check it out before heading back to Munich. Katie and I are collecting ornaments from all of the countries we’re visiting, and we thought this would be a good opportunity to get another one from France.

Riquewihr is in the wrong country. The only thing French about this town was the language people spoke. It couldn’t have looked and felt more German. I try not to make a habit of using words like “cute” and “adorable,” but this place was pretty darn cute and adorable. I had another one of those “I feel like I’m walking through a puzzle” moments. It’s very charming and has maintained much of its original layout and architecture. If anyone is ever in that region of France, we highly recommend a visit to this small town.

The most German-looking French city ever.

The Christmas store — Féerie de Noël — was far bigger than anything we imagined and immaculately decorated. Katie and her mom could have spent hours in there. I did my best to keep them on a schedule, though, and we were out of there and back to Colmar after about an hour. Katie’s haul included a few new ornaments and a pretty sweet Advent calendar.

Ladies and gentlemen, the North Pole.

Once back in Colmar we packed up and headed out for Munich. We enjoyed a nice drive through Munich’s Black Forest (which is really no different than driving through other tree-lined, wooded areas in Europe — part of me thought we’d be deep within a thick forest — we were not) and then along Lake Constance. We passed near Lindau before heading up to Memmingen and over to Munich.

We arrived around 7:30 p.m., unloaded the over-loaded car and jumped back in the car to drop it off at the rental garage. We walked from there to the Marienplatz and eventually to Schneider-Weisse for a German meal and a glass of delicious — and cheap (beer in France was really expensive!) — weiss beer. Katie’s parents were big fans.

After dinner we took them to the Hofbrauhaus. We enjoyed one more libation while playing some sheepshead. It turns out that Katie’s dad has been playing the game his whole life (with a few different rules than what we’re used to). It was a fun night to cap off a long, awesome, unforgettable trip to France.

But as the saying goes, it’s really good to be “home.”

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The other Tour de France: Day 12

Versailles to Colmar

Route: Versailles to Colmar

Total Miles: 313 miles (504 kilometers)

Driving Time: 6.0 hours

After staying in the Paris and Versailles area for an extra day to accommodate what turned out to be a very busy work day for Katie and her dad, we finally packed up and set out for Munich on Tuesday, July 24. (Side note: A blog on our time in Paris will come at a later time.)

A straight shot from Versailles to Munich would have taken 9 hours. When you add in stops and traffic, we expected it to take more like 10.5. After a couple of hours on the road we realized that it would be best to find a cheap hotel to stay at along the way so that 1) we could break up the drive and 2) Katie and her dad could get a few hours of work done.

Her parents had an international data plan on their iPad, so we were able to scan Hotels.com from the road and found a nice rate at the Best Western in Colmar, France. It’s a town just a few miles from the Germany/France border and — as it turns out — felt more like a Germany city than French. In fact, most of the cities in this area seemed to have heavy German influences with the tudor-style homes and orange roofs. We also started to see more and more German on the road signs as we approached our hotel.

We also picked Colmar because it would allow us to drive through the beautiful Black Forest on the following day when we completed our journey. The ride into Colmar was beautiful in its own right, though, with the final 80 kilometers taking us up and down the picturesque Vosges mountains.

The landscape told us we were getting close to Germany.

We arrived at our hotel in the evening, grabbed a bite to eat at the restaurant downstairs and then called it a night.

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The other Tour de France: Day 5

Tourtirac to Paris

Route: Tourtirac to Paris

Total Miles: 398 miles (642 kilometers)

Driving Time: 6.5 hours

There was no ceremonial drive through the Arc de Triomphe, but we were still plenty excited to pull into Paris this afternoon. Our arrival in France’s capital capped a five-day driving tour through the country that spanned over 1,500 miles and took a combined 27 hours. Today’s drive was extremely uneventful, aside from me stalling four times in a row while trying to leave a tollbooth. That was fun.

Of course, we still have to drive back to Munich, but that’s not until Monday. In the meantime, the only driving we’ll be doing is the short trip to our hotel in Versailles where we’ll be staying on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Katie’s parents will be meeting us in France and they recommended staying in Versailles. We found a really affordable hotel and there’s a cheap train that goes right into Paris.

As for tonight and tomorrow night, we’re at an airport hotel just outside of the city because of Katie’s flight to Ireland tomorrow. That’s right. Tomorrow we’ll be taking a vacation from our vacation. Katie will fly to Dublin for the day (she leaves in the morning and returns in the evening) for a work meeting. I’ll stay behind in Paris and knock out some freelance work. We’ll resume our regularly scheduled holiday on Thursday morning.

I’m excited for Paris. I really want to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre museum and the aforementioned Arc de Triomphe. I also want to experience the cafes and culture of Paris, along with more of this country’s amazing food that I’ve come to truly appreciate and love. Katie’s excited, too. She has a few walking tours planned that will take us through some of her favorite chef’s “must see” lists for Paris, including food markets/shops. We also plan on seeing the Tour’s final stage in Paris on Sunday and might even get to the time trial on Friday.

I should mention that in addition to the end of our long drives this stretch of daily blogs will also come to an end (perhaps much to your relief). We’ll post a recap of our Paris trip once we’re back in Munich.

With that I’ll say farewell. Look for a Paris recap later next week, along with photos from our entire “other Tour de France.”

Au revoir!

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The other Tour de France: Day 4

Any good effort to construct one’s own Tour de France would have to include a rest day, right? After all, the cyclists that take on the actual Tour get two days rest over the course of their 20-stage journey. So it only made sense that Katie and I would get our own rest day. For our much-needed one-day break from driving we chose the town of Tourtirac in Bordeaux’s wine region, about 45 minutes east of Bordeaux and just a few kilometers east of the famous Saint Emilion wine region.

As we mentioned yesterday, we got in late last night and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine before calling it a night. The wine we sampled was from the vineyard owned by the woman who lives in our bed and breakfast, “Galot la Chapelle.” Her name is Lisette and she’s a wonderfully kind woman. She opens up her home to visitors – but no more than three bookings at a time because she only has three rooms. She lets guests park for free on her driveway and she’ll even do your laundry for you if you like. It was just the kind of place we were hoping for.

Breakfast each morning was served under the tree to the left.

Lisette speaks no English, but tried very hard to communicate with us via hand gestures, a few English words, and, well, French. In only a few short days in the country, Katie and I have picked up a good chunk of words that have helped us communicate with her. But in the end, the biggest lifesaver turned out to be Google Translate. When we needed to discuss dinner plans or wineries to attend or how to settle the bill, we just pulled up Google Translate and typed in our questions/comments that were instantly translated into her language. She would then take her turn typing her reply. This really helped for the moments with hand gestures and patience weren’t enough to get the job done (although odd to have a conversation over Google Translate). It was just another moment when we told ourselves how much Google has changed the world. We’ll dedicate an entire future post to Google Maps, which have been even more helpful during this year abroad!

But back to our visit in Tourtirac. We woke up and had a wonderful breakfast of bread, butter, jam, coffee, orange juice, yogurt and walnuts. Afterwards, we walked about a mile to a neighboring winery called “Chateau Pitray” for an 11:00 a.m. wine tasting. We walked down a long, private driveway before finding ourselves in front of a castle-like building. Chateau Pitray was originally built in the 1400’s and re-built after a fire in the 1800’s. The same family has owned it since its inception and they’ve been making wine for the last 600 years.

We were the only ones that inquired about a tour that morning, so we received a very personal and private tour of the estate and the winery by a man named Pierre (of course his name was Pierre) who is married to the daughter of the owners.  Pierre answered all of our questions about the winemaking process and even let us see some of the behind-the-scenes activities like how the bottles get their labels. At the end of the tour we sampled some delicious red wines from their 2006 and 2008 vintages. We bought a couple of bottles before saying our good-byes.

Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel to jump into the car and drive to Saint Emilion, one of the most famous wine regions in the world. It was only about a 10-minute drive from where we were staying. Saint Emilion turned out to be a cute little town with restaurants, wine shops, merchandise shops and quite a bit of history. It was also pretty expensive. We would definitely recommend that visitors stay outside of the region and commute into the town for day trips. We walked around for a while and enjoyed an affordable lunch of meat, cheese and salad (all locally produced, of course) from a local winery’s storefront before making our way from the town to some of the surrounding wineries.

A person could get used to lunches like this.

We chose two vineyards that were on the drive back to our hotel – Clos Rol de Fombrauge and Chateau Lavallade. The first was managed by a woman who spoke no English, but that didn’t impede our mission of sampling some local wines, nor did it keep her from rambling on and on in French about who knows what. All we know is that her wine was delicious and we left with a bottle of their 2009 vintage. Although we would love to know what she was trying to talk to us about the entire time. Lavallade was managed by an English-speaking woman who happily answered our questions and gave us generous pours of their merlot-cabernet blends. We purchased a bottle of their 2008 vintage.

Bonjour!

At this point we figured we should head back to our hotel before we got to the point where we were unable to drive. Once there, we relaxed and talked with Lisette for a bit before driving into Castillon-la-Bataille for dinner (about 10 minutes south of Tourtirac). We ate at a place called Fontaine de Manon and had a fantastic meal of salad, goat cheese, beef and duck — with chocolate ice cream for dessert. The baked goat cheese really stood out. Between this meal and the one we had for dinner in Massat, I have newfound love for baked cheeses. After dinner we drove back to our bed and breakfast where we enjoyed a few more glasses of Lisette’s wine and a couple of games of cards (I won tonight!).

It was a very relaxing day in a very relaxing area of France. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect (70 and sunny). We got to see a few different wineries and sample some really good red wines.

By the way, driving around Bordeaux’s wine country was an event in and of itself. The entire region is made up of nothing but vineyards. There are small towns here and there, along with the aforementioned massive mansion-like chateaus and tiny “chambers d’hotes” (bed and breakfasts), but everything is surrounded on all sides by acres and acres of grapes. In fact, it was this reality that prompted one of the more entertaining discussions of our trip:

Matt: This part of France kind of looks like Iowa, but with wine instead of corn.

Katie: It really does. What if people came from all over the world to visit Iowa?

Matt: What?

Katie: What if people in Japan and Norway and France and Chile came to Iowa to stay in cute little barns and sample the local corn and the many types of dishes that can be made from corn? It’s no different than this place, except it’d be corn instead of wine.

Matt: That’s an excellent question. Iowa could become the next Bordeaux. I love it.

Katie: People could take tours of the cornfields and sleep on hay.

Matt: And we could call them corneries instead of wineries.

Katie: That’s just corny.

Matt: (Silence.)

Sadly, this conversation did not take place after drinking wine. We were completely sober. Speaking of wine, we decided to buy a couple bottles of Lisette’s wines before leaving tomorrow. That will give us six bottles in total – not a bad haul for a day and a half in Bordeaux’s wine region. The goal is to hold onto all of them until 2013 so we can drink them with friends and family in the States. Each bottle will have its own story to tell!

Tomorrow morning we’ll enjoy another breakfast in Tourtirac before hitting the road for our 7-hour drive to Paris. Back on the road! Stay tuned …

Our haul from the Saint Emilion wine region.

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The other Tour de France: Day 3

Massat to Tourtirac

Route: Massat to Tourtirac

Total Miles: 229 miles (370 kilometers)

Driving Time: 5.0 hours

Hey, everyone. It’s Katie! Matt’s in the driver’s seat, so I thought I’d get a jump start on the blog.

It’s not that often that you can say, “Wow. That ranks as one of my top life experiences!” It’s even more rare that the next day you can say, “Wow. That beats that awesome thing that happened yesterday!” That happened to me today. As incredible as yesterday’s tour was, today’s Stage 14 of the Tour de France was truly something special to be seen.

When we woke up in the quaint little town of Massat, we could already feel the excitement and buzz of the upcoming tour. Streets were already being closed off and cyclists from all parts of the world waited in anticipation. After some coffee and emails, we decided to walk through the village and see the sights of Massat. Twenty minutes later (literally – that’s how small the village was) – 10 of which were spent in an antique shop (which really was an old man’s basement brought into a store front) – we learned that the city was “out of bread” so we had to go to the next village to find food. But don’t let that diminish your thought of this town – it was nothing short of perfect. Situated in the dreamy Pyrenees mountains, the mere fact that the village ran out of bread speaks to its simplicity and “old fashioned” way of life.

Ten minutes later, we found ourselves eating at a restaurant in the town of Biert – one of the many small mountain towns where the sign telling motorists they’re leaving the town can be seen while looking at the sign telling motorists they’re entering the town. Our native tongues did nothing for us here (nor did they do much for us in Massat – it was strangely preferred, though). After glancing at the menu, Matt recognized “steak” and I saw “fromage” and knew that was cheese, so we were set. It was perfect. I’m not sure if it was the meal itself, the restaurant being run by a French family who likely lived above the restaurant, or the calming, picturesque setting. Everything was prepared with local ingredients, giving the meal an extra special French rustic charm.

After we ate, at about 1:30 p.m., we made the 30-minute drive up the Pyrenees to “Mur de Peguere” to get a viewing spot. We chose this point because it was the end of an 11-kilometer-long climb that ascended half a mile and included an 18% incline over the final stretch (which someone told us was the steepest ever in the history of the Tour!). As we made the drive up the mountain, we watched our car’s outdoor temperature gauge drop from 24 degrees Celsius to a rather brisk 11 (that’s rough a drop from 75 degrees Fahrenheit to 50).

Views like this made the slow ride up (and down) the mountain worth it.

What we saw when we got there couldn’t have been more different than the day before. We had to park our car 1.5 miles from the viewing spot because of the massive amount of people wanting to see the Tour at this stretch and the parked cars that had already lined the roads. As we walked we passed a number of campers and makeshift campsites where people had spent the night before (and possibly a couple nights). There were a couple of vendors along the way selling cups of hot chocolate, wine and other snacks.

When we got to the tour route, both sides of the street were already lined with people and the crowd was two-deep in some areas. We worked our way around one of the bends so that we truly were at the final stretch of inclined roads and maneuvered our way into a spot. We got there right around the time the caravan was riding through. Because of the incline, the narrow roads and the throngs of people lining the streets, everyone came through at a much slower pace.  This was a major bonus – when the caravan went through throwing candy and other giveaways, I had a much better chance of snagging something! Matt and I were lucky enough to snare a couple of polka dot hats (the same pattern that’s used on the “King of the mountains” jersey in the Tour) that we were hoping for yesterday.

Not the most flattering hats in the world …

We met an older couple from Switzerland (who spoke German) who told us they were watching their 14th Tour de France. They told us the mountain stages were the best and that we definitely picked a good spot to watch this year’s tour. That made us feel good!

The Tour’s website said the lead riders would likely be coming by around 4:00 p.m. with the trailing group coming by around 4:25 p.m. They must have underestimated the route’s difficulty because, on a day that I would consider perfect for riding a bike (cool and overcast with very little wind), the riders were a good 45 minutes off the pace. It wasn’t until 4:45 p.m. or so that we saw the stage leader. He looked exhausted but determined. His pace was slow enough to give us a good look at him and cheer him on, but I was still amazed at how fast he was going this late in the stage. I was also amazed at how close the crowd can get to the bikers. I knew this was the case from watching the Tour on TV, but to experience it in person is another story. As the lead rider came through, the crowd actually inched closer to the middle of the road, making what was already a narrow passage even more so, and screamed and cheered at full force.

Just behind the lead rider were a few more riders – a couple of which actually seemed to smile to each other (they were teammates) in acknowledgement of how loud the crowd was being. When the lead pack came through (led by the overall Tour leader, Bradley Wiggins), the crowd’s roar became deafening. It was neat to see everyone cheer for, well, everyone. It didn’t matter what team you were on or what country you were from. If you were brave enough to be in this race and survive such a treacherous climb, you had earned the applause and encouragement of the fans.

The current leader of the Tour: Bradley Wiggins.

While our viewing portion of yesterday’s stage only lasted a few minutes, this one lasted a good half of an hour given the spacing among the riders and their slower pace. But like yesterday, it was still over too soon!

(UPDATE: It looks like some idiots threw tacks on the course a little after where we were watching. You can read about an awesome display of sportsmanship here.)

What was the same as yesterday is how fast people cleared out once the riders had all come through. We made the 1.5-mile trek back to our car and were on the road to Bordeaux by 5:30 p.m. For the first hour of the drive we were essentially leaving the mountains, so it was a long, curvy, downhill road. As soon as we reached a normal highway, Matt jumped into the driver’s seat for the final three hours. The sun didn’t set until 9:45 or so, giving us just enough daylight to find and pull into our chambres d’hotes (french for “bed and breakfast”) in the Tourtirac region of Bordeaux’s wine country (about 45 minutes east of Bordeaux) at about 10:15 p.m.

The owner of our bed and breakfast was waiting outside when we arrived (we had called ahead to tell her we’d be pulling in quite late). She speaks almost no English, but we were able to get by with hand signals and words that happen to sound alike between our two languages. Although it took us a few minutes to realize that what we thought was her asking if we wanted dinner tomorrow night, she was really asking if we wanted dinner tonight. At 10:30! What service. However, we declined given that we had already eaten. We did take her up on an offer to have a couple of glasses of wine, though. She gave us two empty glasses and a couple of open bottles from her winery (almost every place to stay out here is also a winery) and then said goodnight. Matt and I spent the rest of the night planning tomorrow’s activities, playing a few hands of rummy (I won, of course), and enjoying some delicious wine.

We’re looking forward to a full day in Bordeaux tomorrow. The only driving we’ll be doing is to get from winery to winery. Can’t wait!

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The other Tour de France: Day 2

La Turbie to Montpellier to Massat

Route: La Turbie to Montpellier to Massat

Total Miles: 381 miles (614 kilometers)

Driving Time: 6.5 hours

We saw the Tour de France today! And it was awesome.

But first, we spent an hour this morning enjoying some La Turbie coffee and catching up on a few emails before setting out on our 3-hour drive to Montpellier. We were on the road by 9:00 a.m. and hoped to be able to spend a solid hour walking around the city before making our way to the Tour. But long lines at a few tollbooths delayed our arrival and we didn’t pull into Montpellier until closer to 12:45 p.m. At that point, we decided to just grab a couple of Subway sandwiches and head right to our Tour viewing point, which was just 10 km west of the city.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we arrived at “the Tour.” In fact, it’s weird even writing that. The Tour de France is a series of stages that span the entire country, each with a unique starting and finishing location. Each stage passes through a number of towns and villages and intersections, giving fans an almost endless choice of possible viewing points. Nothing on the Internet gives first-time Tour attendees like us any type of definite “go see the Tour at this spot” information. But the Tour’s main website, letour.fr, has fantastic maps and time schedules that make it easy to locate a spot. Since we knew we’d be coming from Montpellier, we just picked one of the roads leaving the city that intersected with the tour route. We assumed that when we got to that intersection, we’d see some type of activity (and perhaps closed roads).

Sure enough, as we were approaching our chosen intersection (D613 and D185), we could see cars parked along the side of the road and a stream of people walking up a small hill that led to the street the cyclists would be riding on. This particular point in the route had the bikers traveling over a smaller street that bridged the road we were on. (In other words, the road we took to our viewing point wasn’t closed – we could have kept right on going – since the bikers were able to pass over from above.)

We parked the car, grabbed a few things and joined the stream of people. When we got to the street that the bikers were to be riding on, it felt as if we were three hours early to a small town Fourth of July parade. There were a couple of policemen standing by and people were slowly setting up chairs on either side of the street. That was it. No guardrails. No banners. No sponsor advertisements. No big monitor to follow the action. It was just a street with people sparsely spread out on its sidewalks. There was one sign posted in a few places that indicated the route’s path at this point in the race (which involved the cyclists entering a roundabout and leaving via the far side). At first we thought the signs were there for the benefit of us fans, but we eventually realized that they’re more for the riders so they don’t make any wrong turns.

One happy tourist!

Katie and I walked down toward the roundabout and decided to set up camp. We sat down in the grass and enjoyed our Subway lunch. We got there around 2:00 p.m., plenty of time before the lead riders were expected to pass through (estimated at 3:45 p.m., according to letour.fr). We read about the Tour de France “caravan” that rides the tour route about 60-90 minutes ahead of the lead riders. This group of vehicles is made up of mostly sponsors who promote their businesses and throw goodies at the crowd. It was during this time that Katie turned into an adorable little child, jumping up and down and waving at the sponsors to get them to throw candy her way. Unfortunately, we were standing next to a couple of small children and the sponsors kept throwing their candy and toys at them instead of Katie. She did succeed in getting a couple of things – a package of little Madeline pound cakes and an inflatable pillow to use on airplanes. She was quite proud of herself.

Each sponsor seemed to have about a half dozen vehicles driving the route. Of these cars, one was usually decorated like a parade float, most often including some type of large animal or bicycle. The goal of this caravan is to get the crowd even more excited and to arm them with some goodies for when the cyclists (and cameras!) roll by.

The caravan rolled through at about 2:30 p.m. After about 15 minutes, all was quiet again and we patiently waited for the noise we were told to listen for – helicopters. There are a few choppers that follow the tour in order to provide TV broadcasters with the shots they need Once you hear them, you know the riders are close. At about 4:30 p.m., 15 minutes before our schedule said we should expect the bikers, Katie grabbed my arm and said, “Listen!” Sure enough, in the distance I could hear the faint sound of a helicopter. We scanned the sky and saw not one, but three choppers hovering a few miles away. From then on, with each passing minute, the noise grew louder as the helicopters came closer and closer to where we were waiting. Then, out of nowhere, the crowd about 200 meters down from us started cheering. We looked up and saw a motorcycle with a flashing blue light race through, followed by a bright yellow motorcycle – both were vehicles we hadn’t seen to this point. This was it.

Seconds later, right on schedule at about 3:45 p.m., a single rider emerged, flanked by motorcycles and cars carrying TV cameras, bicycles and other supplies. Ten seconds later, he was gone. After a couple of minutes passed, we heard more cheers and knew it was time for the pelaton (in bike races, this is the smaller group of riders that has broken away from the rest of the field) to make its appearance. They arrived in similar fashion to the earlier rider – flanked by security, broadcast and team vehicles. There were seven of them in all. They, too, were gone in about 10 seconds. Finally, after a couple of more minutes, we heard more cheers and braced ourselves for the appearance of the rest of the field. It was quite a site to see. It gave me goose bumps and, as I would later learn, drove Katie to tears. See for yourself:

(SLOW INTERNET CONNECTION IN MASSAT. LOOK FOR THE VIDEO LATER!)

After the main pack pedaled by, a few more vehicles appeared, one of which had the phrase “Fin de Tour” on its hood. This was the Tour’s caboose and it was telling us there were no more riders to wait for. A this point the entire crowd quickly disbanded and headed for their cars. It was 3:55 p.m. The entire viewing lasted only 10 minutes. But it was a thrilling 10 minutes and completely surreal to be seeing this event in person. I never follow the Tour that closely, but I always tune in to see a few stage recaps. To now be able to say I stood on the side of the road as the bikers flew by (and they do go fast), it something I’ll always cherish. It was the coolest sporting event I’ve ever been to. And it only lasted 10 minutes!

When it was all over, I saw that Katie had tears in her eyes. When I asked her about it she said that she’d always wanted to do this – to visit France with me and see the Tour. Being at that roundabout today was not only a dream come true for her, it was also another moment where we both felt that being out here for this year was the right decision to make – for memories like this.

We walked back to our car and headed for the highway to begin our 3.5-hour journey to Massat, France. We spent much of the drive talking about what we just witnessed and agreeing that, despite its brevity, it was one of the most thrilling things we’ve ever seen live. And it really was.

Our drive to Massat was a pleasant surprise. The ride through the French countryside and up into the Pyrenees Mountains is gorgeous. It takes a while because you can only go so fast on such windy roads, but it’s something we would highly recommend to anyone who plans on visiting the area. The views of the mountainsides, valleys and sunflower fields are breathtaking.

A shot of France’s southern countryside.

Once we reached our highest point and began our descent into the town of Massat, we started noticing campers and tents along the side of the road. These were individuals who wanted to watch tomorrow’s stage. They were camping along the road so that they could just wake up and wait for the riders. It was a cool site to see and it made Katie and I want to return someday to do a camping edition of the Tour de France. Everyone looked like they were having a great time. And it was neat to be driving along the same route that the bikers would be on tomorrow. They certainly have their work cut out for them. It wasn’t an easy ride for us – and we were in a car going downhill! They’ll be going uphill when they pass through tomorrow afternoon.

At around 7:30 p.m. we rolled into Massat, a tiny little town about 20 miles from Foix (where tomorrow’s stage ends) located just off the D618 “route of the Pyrenees.” We checked into our hotel (Maxil Café) and learned that, if we wanted to, we could literally see the Tour from our bedroom window. Their route takes them straight through Massat and down the road right outside our hotel – a fairly narrow road at that! We thought it was pretty neat to be staying in a town that the Tour actually rides through.

We threw our stuff in our room and went to our hotel’s restaurant where we ended up having a fantastic French meal of beef and camembert cheese. The camembert, baked with a poppy and sesame seed crust, was particularly delicious. Several glasses of French red wine completed the meal.

We plan on exploring the town in the morning before making our way to a viewing spot for the tour. Speaking of that, we have a decision to make. We’re not sure if it would be best to see the bikers come through the actual town of Massat (with its narrow roads), to hike a quarter mile up the mountain to see them at the beginning stages of the day’s final ascent or to drive 20 minutes further up the mountain to watch the bikers as they complete their final ascent. We’re going to get the advice of some locals in the morning, but I’m guessing it will be one of the latter two options.

Either way, we’ll get to see the Tour again. And after today’s adrenaline rush, we’re more than ready!

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The other Tour de France: Day 1

Munich to La Turbie

Route: Munich (Germany) to La Turbie (France)

Total Miles: 547 miles (880 kilometers)

Driving Time: 9 hours

Katie and I woke up this morning in Germany and are about to fall asleep in France – but only after passing through Austria, Italy and Monaco in what became a record-setting day for both of us in terms of “number of countries traveled through in a single day.”

We set out around 7:30 a.m. and were in our Hertz rental car by about 8:30 a.m. We packed a lunch and snacks to keep us from having to make a long stop along the way, which helped us pull into La Turbie, France, by about 5:30 p.m. The drive from Munich was fairly uneventful. We experienced some annoying construction while trying to get out of Germany, which delayed our trip by a good 45 minutes. Other than that, the route was nice and clear.

We spent most of the day in Italy, traveling from its northern border to its most southwestern corner. The drive along the Italian Riviera was breathtaking. It included dozens of tunnels and numerous views of small towns with the Ligurian Sea in the background.

The major downside of driving through Europe is the tolls. Austria (as we learned in January) forces motorists to purchase a vignette sticker for 8 Euros (it’s good for 10 days). For those traveling on the historic A13 highway (as we were) it’s another 8 Euros (but well worth it for the views). Italy has a system where you take a card when entering the highway and punch it when you leave – paying an amount respective to the distance traveled. Since we traveled the entire time in Italy on the toll way, we knew we were in for a hefty toll. Still, we both had slight sticker shock when asked to cough up 51 Euros as we were leaving Italy. How Italy is in financial trouble with a toll system like that is beyond me. But again, it’s just part of driving through Europe. We had thought about cutting through Switzerland for part of the trip, but they have an Austrian-like vignette, except they make you pay for the annual version which is 40 Euros. France has its own toll system, so it will be interesting to see what that costs. All I know is I’m never going to complain about the cost of Illinois toll roads again!

In other news, I made my stick shift driving debut this trip. As you might recall, Katie forced me to learn after our Budapest trip back in January. Manual cars are much cheaper to rent than automatics, but up until today, Katie was the only one in our marriage who could drive them. With January’s crash course behind me, I decided to give it a go and picked up the driving duties beginning in northern Italy. It is with great pride that I can say I did not stall while reversing out of our parking spot or while pulling out onto the highway. Nor did I stall while leaving a gas station a few hundred kilometers later. When we pulled up to a tollbooth a couple of hours later, though, I soon found myself running around the car with Katie as she jumped behind the wheel to spare me from stalling for a fourth time as I tried to ease my way through the line at the toll booth. So I still have some work to do. But the good news is that Katie no longer has to bear the brunt of our driving load.

As soon as we got into La Turbie, we checked into the Napoleon hotel (nice, simple, clean place with fantastic employees) and made the 15-minute (and incredibly curvy) drive down to Monaco. (La Turbie sits at the top of Monaco and offers significantly cheaper lodging options than the affluent country below it.) We had hoped to take a bus ride into Monaco (it only costs 1 Euro each way), but they stop running in the early evening. As it turns out, the drive was easy and offered nice photo opportunities. We found free street parking and spent a couple of hours walking around the world’s smallest country (well, next to Vatican City).

Monaco is quite unique. It has 35,000 inhabitants crammed into just 0.75 square miles. They have no income tax, no unemployment and they boast the world’s highest life expectancy at 90 years. The country is mostly known for its wealth and it boasts the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world. It’s certainly a beautiful city with a sense of wealth, but it’s not necessarily what you see that gives it an aura of money. Rather, it’s the people that walk (and drive) its streets that tell you it’s a rather prestigious little place. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a Rolls-Royce in person. But now I’ve seen a half dozen, along with several other high-priced automobiles that I’d only ever seen in magazines. And the people who live in Monaco (as opposed to us easy-to-spot tourists) walk around with a clear sense of “I can afford to live here” about them. I wouldn’t call it arrogance. It’s just a lifestyle thing.

We ended our brief stay in Monaco with a trip to the famous Monte Carlo Grand Casino. We heard that the casino has a strict dress code (no shorts or t-shirts) and a 10-Euro cover charge. But as it turns out, there’s a room on the lower floor with slots and table games where both of those rules are waived (most people were wearing shorts). We weren’t planning on paying to go in, but once we learned you could access one of the rooms for free, we happily strolled through. They had blackjack, roulette and several slots. The casino itself is very grand with an environment unlike anything you’d ever find in Las Vegas – and by that I mean it was very tame. There was little noise in the room – either from the machines themselves or the gamblers. And the tables/slots that were in the room did not fill the space all that well, leaving empty pockets of just carpeting – very different from the casinos we know from back home.

That didn’t stop me from slapping 10 Euros down at a table for my one hand of blackjack – just to say I gambled at Monte Carlo. After winning my first hand, I gave my original bet back to Katie for safe keeping and decided to play until I lost. If I lost the second hand, I’d walk out even. My luck continued for two more hands and suddenly I was up 30 Euros. I lost my next hand and decided to take my meager winnings and call it a night. We trekked back to our car and drove back up to La Turbie for a late dinner – where we put the 20 Euros I took from Monaco to good use.

We were all smiles after raking in a solid 20 Euros at the Monte Carlo casino.

One thing we’ve always believed and believe even more after today: driving is the best way to travel around Europe. I know there’s the price of gas and tolls to contend with, along with the cost of renting a car and potentially paying for any parking, not to mention the fact that it takes longer to get to where you’re going. (Speaking of gas – we had to fill up at a place today that charged 1.90 Euros per liter — that’s over $8/gallon! Gas is notoriously more expensive in Europe than the States because they tax it so heavily to encourage car-pooling and other forms of transportation.) But it’s all worth it for the travel flexibility and the behind-the-scenes look you get in return (not to mention no security to deal with and a place to keep some stuff you don’t want to lug into your hotel room). And it’s actually still cheaper than doing the planes/trains thing. If we wanted to do the same trip we’re doing now, but with flights and trains, it would cost much more than what we’re paying to drive. Driving into Monaco was surreal. And as I mentioned before, the Italian coast was like something out of a painting. We can’t wait to see more of it when driving through southern France this weekend.

Now it’s off to bed before an early rise tomorrow for a 3+ hour trip into Montpellier where we’ll walk around the city before heading a little west to meet up with the Tour de France. Afterwards we’ll drive into the Pyrenees mountains where we’ll stay for the night.

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The other Tour de France

My ultimate sports dream is to sit at Wrigley Field and watch the Cubs play in the World Series. Since that dream involves the Cubs, it will likely never happen. Katie’s ultimate sports dream is to see the Tour de France in person. An avid biker, Katie has always been a fan of bike races of all kinds — especially the annual Downer Bike Race that comes to Milwaukee — with a special spot in her heart for the Tour. When we made the decision to come to Europe for a year, we knew that a trip to France in July was a must.

So on Friday, Katie and I will pick up a rental car and make our way to the south of France where we’ll drive from town to town before ending up in Paris for the following weekend. It’s Katie’s first real “holiday” of the year (remember, I’ve been on holiday all year long). She took a day off for our Greece trip, but all of our other trips have either been on the weekend or have been work-related. So it goes without saying that she’s especially excited about this trip!

Along the way, in addition to seeing the countryside and the sights of France, we’ll spend a few afternoons watching the Tour, including the final (and somewhat anticlimactic since the winner is usually determined by then) stage on Sunday, July 22, in Paris. We’re also hoping to see a mountain stage and a time trial.

While we were planning our trip, a surprise work trip came up for Katie. She now has to be in Dublin, Ireland, on Wednesday, July 18. So in the middle of our France trip, Katie will jet off to the Emerald Isle (who knew she’d be back so soon?) for a day while I hang back in France. The good news about Katie’s trip is that it involves her father coming to Europe. Since he’s making the trip for the same meeting Katie will be at, he’s decided to stay a few extra days and to bring Katie’s mom along. They’re going to go from Dublin to London before meeting us in Paris on Friday. After our weekend in France’s capital, we’ll all pile in our rental car and drive back to Munich where they’ll stay with us for a few days.

The more this trip takes shape, the more we’re realizing that we’re in for a whirlwind 10 days that we’re dubbing “the other Tour de France.” My goal — assuming we can get Internet connection in the evenings — is to write a short blog recapping each day. In addition to hopefully making for good reading, it will also save me the burden of having to write a monster recap blog when we return.

We have our hotels reserved and the car rented. Aside from that, it’s all up in the air. We have an idea of where we want to see the Tour, but it’s not like a typical sporting event. It’s free, which is nice. But it’s also kind of ambiguous. We’ve been able to glean some stuff from the Internet. That, along with the Tour de France website, which has great maps and schedules, should be enough to get us to where we want to be and when we want to be there.

I’ll leave you with our tentative itinerary — just know that it’s most definitely subject to change (especially given how likely it is for us to get lost — either in the beauty of a French city or because our Google Maps failed us). Look for more posts soon, hopefully as early as Friday night when we wrap up a quick night in Monaco! That’s right. We figured we’d knock out another country while in southern France. (Although Monaco with all of its Monte Carlo glitz and glamour is too pricey for our blood, so we’ll be staying just outside of the country border in La Turbie, France.) Europe has a few of these smaller-than-Milwaukee countries that could prove helpful in my quest to get us to 20 countries by the end of the year. If time allows, maybe I can convince Katie to stop in Andorra, Luxembourg or Liechtenstein!

Anyways … here’s the schedule. Join us for the fun!

Friday, July 13

  • Drive from Munich, Germany to La Turbie, France (8 hours)
  • Take a 10-minute bus ride into Monaco
  • Spend an evening walking around Monaco
  • Find the Monte Carlo casino and wish we had enough money (and the right attire) to gamble

Saturday, July 14

  • Wake up early and drive from La Turbie to Montpellier (3.5 hours)
  • Spend the afternoon walking around Montpellier
  • Make our way to a spot to watch Stage 13 of the 2012 Tour de France
  • Drive from Montpellier to Massat (3 hours)

Sunday, July 15

  • Spend the morning hiking around the Pyrenees mountains
  • Eventually make our way a little north of our hotel for a prime spot to watch Stage 14 of the 2012 Tour de France (one of the biggest mountain stages of this year’s tour)
  • Drive from Massat to the Bordeaux wine region (4 hours)

Monday, July 16

  • Enjoy a full day in Bordeaux’s wine region
  • Visit a few wineries
  • Drink wine
  • Have more wine
  • Find French food to go with the wine
  • Drink even more wine
  • Buy some bottles of wine and try not to drink it all before we get home

Tuesday, July 17

  • Make our way to Paris (7 hours)
  • Stop along the way if we see anything of interest
  • Check into the airport hotel

Wednesday, July 18

  • Katie flies to Dublin in the morning and returns late in the evening
  • I spend the day working and missing Katie (awwww)

Thursday, July 19

  • Enjoy a day in Paris
  • Trips to the Louvre and Eiffel Tower are a must, along with a trip to Notre Dame
  • Strolls the streets and stop at a few cafes

Friday, July 20

  • This vacation is getting long
  • Meet up with Katie’s parents and spend the day in Paris

Saturday, July 21

Sunday, July 22

  • Spend the morning in Paris
  • Camp out for most of the day near the Arc de Triomphe to watch Stage 20 of the 2012 Tour de France (the big finish!)
  • Leave Paris that night to get a few hours of driving out of the way (3 hours)

Monday, July 23

  • Drive back to Munich (another 7 hours) with potential stops along the way (like Riquewihr, France)
  • This drive will take us through Germany’s enchanted Black Forest
  • Get home and crash for the night, dreaming of France

As you can see, we have a lot of driving ahead of us. But France is one of those countries that promises beautiful views, so hopefully it will all be worth it. Ciao!

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Einen schönen 4. Juli

“A happy 4th of July!”

The thing about spending a year abroad is that you have to experience each of the holidays without the typical presence of family and friends. With the exception of Christmas (we came over on January 9 and will be back before Christmas this year), we’ll spend every major holiday in Europe this year.

A normal 4th of July for Katie and I would involve a night at my family’s lake cottage, a small town parade, plenty of cookouts and a trip to West Bend for the annual Duck Races. America’s birthday also means celebrating the birthdays of Katie’s sister, Claire (July 4), and our new niece, Maddie (July 5). None of that stuff was in the cards this year, though. It was just another day in Munich. In fact, when I went to an ATM at the bank in the morning to take out some cash, I was at first confused as to why they were even open. I thought it was strange that they had to work on a holiday. Oh, that’s right. It’s not a holiday over here.

But even though we were missing out on our traditional 4th of July celebrations, Katie managed to find a suitable alternative.

It turns out that Munich has what they call “Little American Oktoberfest.” It’s a week-long festival that runs from Sunday to Saturday during the week of the 4th of July. This year it was held in the Waldwirtschaft Grosshesselohe beer garden in one of the most southern corners of Munich. We rode our bikes there in what turned out to be a rather gorgeous bike ride on a perfect 75-degree day. The ride was supposed to only take an hour, but it took us about two because we got turned around so much. In fact, we ended up hopping on the S-bahn for one stop because we had no idea how to get to this place once the bike path we were on suddenly ended. After asking about 10 different people throughout the trip and getting 10 different sets of directions (What?! Germans don’t know where every beer garden is?), we eventually made it to our destination.

When we arrived at Waldwirtschaft we were greeted with red-white-and-blue decor, an American jazz band and American menu items, including hamburgers, ribs and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (the beer was still German). They even had a mechanical bull. We arrived around 3:30 to a modest crowd. We passed on the American fare given the sticker prices (they were charging 16 Euros for a hamburger!) and instead had our fill of brats, chicken and pretzels. We played cards (Katie crushed me in several games of rummy), talked to a few fellow ex-pats and tried to soak in as many American vibes as we could.

The place started to fill up around 6:00 and we realized it was because most Americans working in Germany don’t get off for the 4th of July – so they were coming after work.

As the day turned into evening, the jazz band gave way to a country singer and the line at the bull machine got longer. We left around 7:00 so that we would have enough daylight for our ride back (we figured we’d get lost again). It turns out that the ride back was without incident. We made it to our apartment in exactly an hour and finished our German 4th of July with a walk around our neighborhood.

Little American Oktoberfest was a far cry from the parades and sparklers we’re used to, but it was a solid effort by Munich. And it allowed us to celebrate our country even though we’re thousands of miles from home. We posted a few photos below.

It was nice to see so much red, white and blue.

Sadly, neither of us gave this a go.

“Little American Oktoberfest”

A shot from the river trail on our way home.

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The Emerald Isle

As I mentioned on Friday, Katie and I just wrapped up an awesome 10 days with my younger brother, Ben. His trip included a lot of biking around Munich, plenty of delicious German beer, numerous games of Sheepshead, trips to Neuschwanstein castle, the town of Fussen, and even Salzburg, Austria. We also watched two Euro Cup games (including Germany’s semifinal loss to Italy) in packed beer gardens. The time went by way too fast, but it was nice to have such quality time with a family member, as it was with my sister’s Amy and Kim who visited earlier in the year. The ultimate highlight of Ben’s visit, though, was a weekend trip to Ireland.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever gone on a trip before and wished that the weather would be cool and overcast with hints of light rain. But that’s exactly what I was hoping for as we set out for Ireland. My vision of the country — formed by scenes in movies — is one where a mist or fog is always rolling through the landscape and where the cloudy skies make the green land pop even more. Well, my wish came true when we touched down in Dublin to beautiful 60-degrees and clouds.

We landed in the Republic of Ireland capital after flying over on Ryan Air, our first time using the low-cost carrier. I was very nervous heading to the airport because we had heard the company does whatever they can to charge you for extra things in order to make up for the fact that their tickets are so cheap (we each paid $65 for roundtrip, non-stop flights from Munich to Dublin). They have strict baggage weight limits, boarding pass rules and time requirements. But it turned out to be like any other airline for the most part. It’s definitely a no-frills carrier (including no free beverage service on the plane), but from a “get me from point A to point B” standpoint, it’s perfect. We had to take a two-hour train to the airport in Memmingen (just west of Munich) instead of the usual hour train to Munich’s main airport, but the extra hour of travel was well worth it to save about $200 per person.

When we touched down in Dublin we quickly found the Enterprise car rental desk and picked up our VW Golf hatchback. It was just minutes earlier, as the plane was touching down and we were looking out the window, that we realized cars in Ireland drive on the left side of the road. Ben and I thought this was awesome. Katie, as the driver of the group (Ben and I can’t drive stick), thought this was terrifying. She had never driven on the other side of the road before (we didn’t drive while in London in February) and didn’t want a car crash to become one of the memories of our trip. The people at Enterprise anticipate this kind of anxiety, though, and provide customers with cheat sheets for driving, mainly information on how to navigate the many roundabouts throughout the country (turn left!). From the minute she got in the car, she was a pro. Adding to the challenge was the fact that she had to drive stick with her opposite hand, but she made it look easy. We didn’t stall once and avoided any fender benders.

We cut across the country and made it to Galway for the night. We checked into the Rock Lodge, a bed and breakfast off of Salthill — a very quaint home run by an adorable old lady named Bridie. We grabbed dinner around the corner in the Salthill neighborhood before making the 10-minute hike into the heart of the city. It was pretty late by the time we got into the city center, which is a small set of streets, including one lined with pubs. We bounced around from place to place and had a few ciders and Guinnesses (as well as my first taste of Murphy’s Irish Stout – pretty good) before calling it a night.

Murphy’s was our favorite among the pubs we tried in Galway.

The next morning, after a traditional Irish breakfast of eggs, bacon (more like ham) and sausage, we made the 90-minute drive from Galway to Kilkee, a small town on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare. Unlike the day before which was mostly on the highway, this drive made all of us say, “Now this looks like Ireland!” We found ourselves stopping often for photos and turning the 90-minute drive into 2+ hours. It was another cool and overcast day, a perfect setting for that day’s activity: golf!

From the minute we started planning this trip, Ben and I knew we wanted to golf nine holes somewhere just to say we golfed in Ireland. Neither of us are too good at the game, but we play enough to appreciate beautiful courses. We found one in Kilkee that had very reasonable rates (15 Euros for nine holes and 5 Euros for club rentals — so Ben and I golfed in Ireland for about $25 each), a links style layout and views of the water. The first three holes of the course run along the water with the best view coming from the third hole. You climb a bit of a hill and just as you’re about to start complaining that the hill is too steep, you see this:

The most intimidating hole I’ve ever played.

The rest of the course was set inland, but it still offered a nice mix of challenge and beauty. Playing a links-style course is challenging in its own way. While there aren’t any trees to contend with and not as much water, the grass is much thicker and shots that leave the fairway can be almost impossible to find. And if you do find your ball, the lie can be so treacherous that it’s almost impossible to dig it out. As for the weather, it drizzled (misted, even) for most of the round, which is exactly the setting we wanted. We didn’t come to Ireland to golf in the sun. We wanted rain! The entire experience was a highlight of the trip.

Yes, that is the ocean behind us.

After our round, we met up with Katie (who only walked the first hole with us but still managed to get in a swing). She otherwise spent the past two hours exploring the not-so-exciting town of Kilkee (she says the most exciting thing there is the grocery store and her top take-away was learning that Ireland’s traditional black pudding is made from pig’s blood … gross), and hopped back in the car for a 60-minute drive to Doolin. Doolin is a very small town between Kilkee and Galway on the very northern edge of the Cliffs of Moher, also in County Clare. We had heard good things about the town’s music and food, as well as its charm. From the minute we pulled in we realized that this would be our favorite city of the trip. Their main street — Fisher Street — is lined with about five buildings, including one restaurant/pub (one of just a handful in the entire town) named O’Connor’s. The minute you step off this “main strip,” you’re surrounded by green hills, stone fences and lots of cows. (By the way, there are way more cows in Ireland than I would have thought. I was expecting more sheep, but it was the cows that dominated the landscape.)

Everything in Ireland is this green.

After walking around a bit, our stomach’s told us it was time to head to O’Connor’s for some famous Irish stew. When they brought out three bowls of piping hot Guinness stew, my mouth started to water and my stomach’s growling intensified. I knew before tasting it that it would be one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The ambiance helped. It was cold outside, we were just golfing in the rain, we wanted something to warm us up, we were hungry, and here we were in this quaint, almost 200-year-old Irish pub in a town so small that there’s no ATM and every single house is a bed and breakfast (true story). It was the perfect setting. And it ended up being a pretty perfect meal.

I’d go back to Doolin just for more of this.

After dinner we visited another of Doolin’s pubs – McDermott’s – where we heard some fantastic Irish music by a local band. We eventually made our way back to O’Connor’s to hear some of their famous Irish music, but it turns out that the group that plays there isn’t amplified (or at least they weren’t on the night we were there) which made it hard to hear from where we were sitting. But it didn’t matter. We enjoyed some drinks while playing Sheepshead, which we taught Ben on one of his first nights in Munich. It was a perfect Irish evening in the perfect Irish town on the perfect Irish vacation.

The next morning, after another fantastic Irish breakfast at the Lane Lodge Bed and Breakfast (we passed on the black pudding), we set out for the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are an iconic part of Ireland and something most of us have seen before in movies or in pictures. The main entrance to the cliffs is about a 10-minute drive from Doolin. They charge for parking, so we skirted the system and parked on the side of the road before walking a brief five minutes to the base of the walking path. There were a good number of tourists, but it wasn’t an overwhelming crowd. There are enough areas to give people numerous views of the cliffs. We walked around for a solid hour taking photos and just taking in the beautiful scenery. Unlike the day before, this day was sunny with blue skies. As it turns out, blue skies make the perfect back drop when taking photos of the cliffs. Mother Nature had good timing on this trip. We were given our clouds and rain when we wanted them and our sun and blue skies when we needed them.

Breathtaking.

We found it interesting that there was no guard rail at this spot.

We headed back to the car (relieved to see no parking ticket) and set out for our return trip to Dublin. The first half of the trip took us through some steep hills and windy roads. It offered beautiful view after beautiful view, but it also made for a bit of white-knuckled driving as the roads narrowed (with tour buses still coming from the opposite direction). At some point we must have hit a rock or nail or whatever because a warning light suddenly came on in the car and I could see through my side mirror that our back tire was dying a very fast death. We pulled over immediately to assess the damage. The tire was shot. Parts of rubber could be seen for a good 200 meters. None of us had ever had to change a tire before, but I was pretty sure I knew how to do it. Thankfully, the rental car had all of the necessary tools (including the tire key) and, more importantly, a full tire – not a spare. This meant we could change the tire and continue on to Dublin (which was still 2+ hours away) instead of having to find an auto shop. We didn’t set any pit stop records for speed, but we managed to make ourselves proud by loosening the bolts, jacking the car, removing the tire and popping the new one on. Katie drove pretty slow for the first 15 minutes afterwards, waiting for the tire to just fall off, but eventually had confidence in my handy work and we were back in Dublin by the afternoon.

After dropping off the rental car (and paying for a new tire – boooo) we caught a bus to Dublin. The buses in Dublin are double-decker, just like the ones in London, and it only cost a few Euros to get into town from the airport. With only a few hours in the country’s capital, we knew we wanted to walk around for a bit and snap some photos before spending our time on Temple Bar — a street lined with restaurants, shops and pubs. Ben and I tried fish and chips and Katie had another version of Irish stew. We also watched the end of the England/Italy Euro Cup game while enjoying our last tastes of Irish cider and beer. It was a fun, relaxing end to a fun, relaxing trip.

Our visit to Ireland gives us 10 countries visited this year (including Germany). Remember, you can read about all of our travels and see photos by visiting our Milwaukee to Munich Travel Map. Or you can go directly to our Flickr page to see photos of our Ireland trip.

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