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Frequently asked questions about our road trip in Europe

We’ve only been home a few days, but Kathryn and I have already heard a lot of questions about our trip. For the benefit of everyone else, I’ve decided to repeat some of them here, along with their answers.

What was the highlight of the trip?

It’s been really tough to single out a highlight, since we had such a great time the whole trip. For me, picking up the new car in Germany was a moment I won’t soon forget, and flying a glider in Austria was a truly unexpected surprise, but the trip was really a series of highlights punctuated by sleep.

How were the flights?

The first leg of our flight ended up being Phoenix to Phoenix. It wasn’t the start we expected. However, when all was said and done, we arrived in Munich only six hours later than we had anticipated, so it wasn’t a total disaster. Furthermore, we were each quite surprised to find $400 vouchers in the mail, along with an apology letter from Continental. The vouchers are good on Continental for up to a year, so we’ll give them another chance and fly somewhere in the near future.

The return flight was stressful, because every segment was late, meaning that every connection was too short. We literally ran for our gates in both Paris and Houston. Air France isn’t alone to blame, though. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration get a fair amount of credit for the nearly missed flights, as well as the security services at Charles de Gaulle.

Did you stay in hotels or bed-and-breakfasts?

We stayed in a combination of hotels, guest houses, and friend’s homes. We spent three nights with my friend Sigrid in Munich and one with my friend Katharina in Eisenstadt. I would consider our night in Baden-Baden to be in a guest house, although the place called itself a hotel. I guess it depends on where you draw the line. Our night near Neuschwanstein was definitely in a guest house. The rest of the nights were in hotels.

Great big beer at Oktoberfest

Great big beer at Oktoberfest

Is your Oktoberfest photo an optical illusion, or are the beers really that big?

The beers are really that big. The standard beer size at Oktoberfest is called a maß, which is one liter or approximately 34 ounces of beer. For the record, I had only one, and Kathryn and Sigrid stuck with apfelschorle, which is apple juice mixed with sparkling water.

BMW in France

BMW in France

How do you like your new car?

The new car is amazing. I love the color. I love the leather. I love the way the instrument panel is laid out. I love the way the steering wheel fits in my hands. I love the way the mirrors fold in at the push of a button, and then unfold automatically when you start driving again. I love all the little features I didn’t even know it had, like the lighted door handles and the climate control memory. The only thing I don’t love is having to wait another six to eight weeks to drive it again.

How fast did you drive?

Most of the time, I drove around 80 to 85 miles per hour on the highways. However, there were a couple of occasions in Germany where I got up to 110 to 115 miles per hour in sections with no speed limit. Other than my death grip on the steering wheel, I was pleased that it handled pretty much the same at the higher speeds as it did at the lower ones.

Kathryn at the wheel, totally in control

Kathryn at the wheel, totally in control

Did you ever let Kathryn drive?

I put most of the miles on the car, but I did let Kathryn drive a couple times. She got it up to 90 to 95 miles per hour at one point in Germany, but she seemed to be in control, so I didn’t mind.

Entrance to Taillevent, Paris

Entrance to Taillevent, Paris

How was your lunch at Taillevent?

Our lunch at Taillevent was simply amazing. I’m embarrassed that I lack the vocabulary to describe the food properly, so I won’t even try. We each ordered a kir royal as an aperitif and then, after receiving a dizzying array of menus, ordered the fixed-price lunch, which had been our plan all along. Naturally, we ordered a bottle of wine, letting the sommelier choose the appropriate bottle for us. An amuse-bouche arrived, which was gazpacho, just to get our taste buds excited. My appetizer was jumbo shrimp, and Kathryn’s was risotto. I continued my seafood theme and had a main course of salmon. There was brie after the main course to clear the palate, followed by dessert — a rich chocolate cake for me — which was accompanied by a plate of assorted chocolates. I had coffee after dessert, and by the time we left, we had been there about two-and-a-half hours. The most pleasant surprise came as we were heading for the front door, when our waiter stopped us and asked us to please wait a moment. A moment later, the owner came out to thank us personally for coming, ask for our repeat business, and wish us a pleasant stay in France. I thought it was an impeccable touch. Someone running a restaurant with two Michelin stars is willing to make guests ordering fixed-price menus and wine-of-the-day feel as important as guests ordering tasting menus and vintage bottles from the cellar.

Did you gamble in Monte Carlo?

No. However, we did take a peek inside the famous casino, allowing us to feel very James Bond for a moment.

Did you take a gondola ride in Venice?

No. A few rides on the vaporetti convinced us that spending $100-plus on a gondola ride might be the most expensive vomit we ever bought. As it turned out, walking around Venice was quite civilized and gave us a chance to see the city without the unwashed hoards.

A little green after first glider flight

A little green after first glider flight

How did you end up gliding in Austria?

When my friend Katharina and her boyfriend David came to visit me in Phoenix two years ago, I took them on an early-morning flight from Deer Valley to Payson for breakfast. At that time, I learned David is also a pilot, but he flies gliders, not airplanes.

Fast-forward two years. When I arrived in Eisenstadt, Katharina let me know that David had a surprise for me the following morning. He arranged for someone in his flying club to take me up in one of their gliders. So while Katharina and Kathryn spent the morning and much of the afternoon seeing the sights in Vienna, I was at the airport in Wiener Neustadt waiting for the weather to improve. However, it eventually did improve to the point where I was able to get a roughly twenty-minute flight. I took the controls for about five minutes, and although I think I did a pretty good job maintaining airspeed, it was a lot different from flying an airplane, especially for maintaining coordination in turns. Glider pilots seem always to be circling for the best air currents. After circling for a while, I was starting to get nauseous, so we headed back to the field a few minutes ahead of schedule. However, it was a positive first glider experience overall, and now that I know what to expect, I may be willing to try it again.

Did you bring home any souvenirs?

I’m not one to buy much of anything when I travel, so my souvenirs from my trips abroad tend to be somewhat accidental. My favorite souvenir of the trip is the German license plate from the front of my new car. Some have suggested that I remount it when I get the car back, despite the dubious legality of displaying it in the U.S. One colleague suggested I leave it on until some cop decides to give me a ticket for it — a suggestion I’m definitely taking under advisement. I also ended up with all the safety equipment required in Europe but not here, such us the reflective triangle, the safety vest, and the first aid kit. Since the items aren’t required in the U.S., they don’t ship with the car, but I can put them all back in the car when it arrives in Phoenix.

Do you feel like the trip brought the two of you closer together?