One of My Heart’s Desire – To Travel

Back in the day…when I tried my hand at online dating after coming back from Okinawa I had “Love to Travel” on my profile – identifying I was seeking a man who needed to have a love for venturing out on adventures and visiting distant lands. I’d spent the previous three years exploring South East Asia and couldn’t imagine not seeing more of the world.

Online dating turned out to be totally wrong for me, but what made me think of my online dating profile statement is the irony that I spent almost a full decade doing no traveling when it was definitely something I loved to do. Instead, I was on a roller coaster ride of starting and failing at businesses and relationships, losing everything and becoming undone – followed by finding, establishing, and growing the most important relationship in my life with Jesus Christ, becoming a new person and then achieving goals like stepping on stage to compete in Women’s Physique and graduating from college.

I often thought about how much I missed traveling; my world felt so small and restricted during those years. From the summer of 2005, when I returned from Iraq, to October 2013, when I finally boarded a plane to Stuttgart, Germany; I never took a real vacation/time off or went anywhere. Okay, yes, I did move to New Orleans in January 2009, but it was for work, and New Orleans became home not a travel destination.

Last week, when I was riding my bike around Lake Constance in complete bliss, I spent time reflecting on how good God is and how blessed I am to be traveling again. It was etched on my heart to travel once more and it turned out to be in alignment with God’s will for my life right now to do so. I’m truly grateful and focused on treasuring every opportunity I’m presented to travel my little heart out!

Stein am Rhein

The Autobahn: The Pleasure and Danger

Germany has an excellent train system…so I hear. Haven’t found out for myself yet because where ever I go – I drive. I invested in a BMW 328I a couple of months back, aka White Diamond, and she’s a dream to drive.  BMWs are after all the “ultimate driving machines” and where else to better enjoy her then here in Germany?  I will never again fully experience what she was designed to do once I leave.

I pity BMW, Porche, Mercedes and Audi owners back in the States…they really don’t know  their cars or get to enjoy what their German engineered cars were designed to do.  Once you experience the thrill of the unrestricted zones on the autobahn; you come to understand what the German engineers know…what they must consider when they want to ensure their countrymen will not just get pleasure out of their time behind the wheel, but will be able to do so “safely”. While driving in the unrestricted zones is elating – it is also definitely dangerous.

Here are few basics some people might not know. The entire autobahn is not without speed limits. A good part of it has speed limits anywhere from 100-120km (60-75mph).  The unrestricted zones (marked by the sign to the left) are the only areas where speed limits are not mandatory although…max speed of 130km is advised.

You DO NOT pass on the right in Germany.  Only to the left. Unless you are passing, you stay out of the left lane. I would say 95% of the time, everyone follows that rule.  The left lane, unless there’s traffic is basically wide open. However, that doesn’t mean someone won’t slide over to pass another car…and this is where it gets dangerous and scary.  But first, let me also add that people use their blinkers.  When going at very high speeds, it’s extremely important to know other driver’s intent because reaction times are limited at best.

Even in the unrestricted zones, where there is no speed limit; you can never go faster than traffic. You find a mixture of two and three lanes around this general area.  Around Berlin, I found 4 lanes…which is where I hit my max speed of 140mph.  Thankfully, even in traffic, when it’s not too heavy, speed will average 80-90mph (which feels like you’re crawling after going 115mph). Finally, the autobahn isn’t a straight away, so however fast you’re going – you need to handle the twist and curves in the road.

Now that you have the basics – let me try to explain the trickiest part of driving on the autobahn and why it’s pretty dangerous.  It’s extremely difficult to gauge the speed of other vehicles when there’s no speed limit. Think about it – in the U.S., except may be for a speeder here and there, you know how fast people are going on the highway and most people are going around the same speed, making it easier to plan what you’re going to do and what could go wrong.  Not so in the unrestricted zones.  Drivers could be going anywhere from 45mph – 220mph…which you have to factor in to your speed.  It gets dicey.

The inability to tell the speed of other vehicles really hinders your ability to make sound decisions. Yes, I see how some people are thinking – a sound decision would be to not drive at 110 mph…but hey, I’m not breaking the law, which is the only thing that keeps me from speeding otherwise.

A car in the right lane going 75mph, can easily signal into the left lane to pass the car in front of them, not realizing what little time they have to pass when you’re coming at them at 120mph.  The heavier the traffic, the more dangerous it gets.  I slow down the more cars that are around; I know I can’t trust other drivers to calculate my speed and safely go about their business.  Obviously the German engineers know this…which is why German cars (or at least my BMW) have excellent breaks.

Besides not knowing how fast other drivers are going, you also never know who is going to decide to speed up and take off. Again, back in the States…if you are the speeding kind, once you pass a car you can basically write them off.  Additionally, most cars aren’t high quality, so the beater you passed isn’t all of the sudden going to come flying by you. Here, you’re surrounded by BMWs, Audis, Porches, and Mercedes…most cars are max 3 years old and all have close to the same capacities, so you never know.   While many choose not the speed – all have the ability.

Forget about it at night. Germans seem to pick up speed. I have poor night vision so I slow down drastically at night. Headlights just go flying by which is more unnerving than during the day.  But that could just be me.

I have to admit that at 110mph, my hands are securely placed at 3 and 9 o’clock…takes me back to drivers ed.  I also understand now why my seats aren’t more “comfortable”; something that surprised me at first about my car. Turns out, they’re in fact just perfect for the ultimate driving experience my sales rep kept mentioning! Once I’m seated “to drive” – the ergonomics are just right as I ease down on the accelerator and take off 🙂

It’s a small pleasure but every time I can get away…it brings a smile on my face when I see that first unrestricted sign. If you’re a speedster – I highly recommend adding driving the autobahn to your bucket list!

My First Castle in Germany

The first castle I came to know as I kid was Château Frontenac in Quebec City. A towering sight in the skyline of what is known as Vieux-Québec, it established my expectations of what a castle ought to be.

It took me a while to finally start taking day trips but my first has been to what people around work refer to as “Cinderella’s Castle” or Neuschwanstein Castle. It’s referred to as Cinderella’s castle at work but actually it was Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle that was inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle. However, the castle was built as a vacation getaway for Ludwig II of Bavaria, who got to enjoy very little of it, as he died in a suspicious swimming incident shortly after the castle was finished. Tucked away in the mountains of Bavaria, Germany it’s a beautiful location to drive to for a day trip.

There’s plenty of parking available once you arrive to the village of Hohenschwangau below the castle from where you have the buy your tickets to enter the castle. Make sure you get your ticket before starting the walk up to the castle. If you don’t want to walk, you can take a bus or a horse drawn carriage. Once at the top, you’ll end up in line according to the time slot on your ticket for your tour. Be sure to select the English tour! The tour itself was okay…you’ll see a few different rooms of the castle but it’s not a very extensive tour however, it’s still worth going inside.

Once you are done inside, you must make sure to climb a little higher and make your way to the bridge where you get the real good picture of the full castle. You can also keep hiking all the way up the mountain for more beautiful landscape views.

Bavaria Country Side