– A last note on Spain, there was an interesting traffic control system in place in Barcelona that I haven’t seen anywhere else. On one of the main expressways, there were 8 lanes in total, but the number of lanes in each direction could change! The way it works is that there are always at least 2 lanes dedicated to each direction of traffic. However, over the middle 4 lanes, there are electronic displays every block (or 50 meters, for example), that say whether the lane is open to traffic in that direction. Thus, during different parts of the day, depending on which way more traffic is going, there can be 5 lanes in one direction and 3 in the other, and so on. I’m not sure what the accident statistics are on such roads, but it seems like a very interesting alternative to using eminent domain in some cases.
– My hotel rooms in Frankfurt and Berlin were a study in contrasts. The hotel room in Frankfurt was quite minuscule. Measuring about 10 feet by 10 feet on a good day, it housed a bathroom, a bed, a small table with a fridge below, a closet, and a TV stand (with TV, of course).
Generally European hotels are different than their American counterparts, but I think this was the smallest hotel room I’ve had in Europe. On the other extreme was my room in Berlin. For not much more than I paid in Frankfurt, I got a room that was bigger than many I’ve had in the US! The entry and bathroom area were about the size of my room in Frankfurt, with the main room being about twice as big!
– Speaking of hotels, there was an amusing day in the Hotel Balaguer in Spain (I guess that wasn’t the last note about Spain after all). I had washed some clothes in the room and hung them from the towel rack to dry. This meant that when the maid came to clean the room, she couldn’t put them on the rack. So where did she put them? Not on the bed, or on the chair, or anywhere else I might have expected. Instead, she put them in the bidet.
Yes, the bidet … the place where you wash your arse. Luckily I had stored a second set of towels in the closet.
– This was my first trip to Germany, and it was quite enjoyable. I spent about 4 days in Munich, 2 days in Frankfurt, and 2 in Berlin (besides the 4+ days in Mainz). There were a number of little things I thought were of note …
– Taxis in Germany are quite different than those in the US. I noticed that most are expensive Mercedes or Audis, and the drivers keep them very clean. The other cool thing about German taxis is that the fare meter is often built into the center rearview mirror. Here’s what it sort of looks like (from http://www.radtax.co.uk/category.asp?p=digitax+meters).
– While in Germany, I didn’t really eat much German food as what I know of the cuisine isn’t all that forgiving for vegetarians. However, the big cities all have a diverse selection of ethnic cuisines, and I generally ate at Indian, Italian, and Turkish restaurants. In fact, Doner Kebab has taken over as the national fast food in Germany. The Indian food I ate was generally pretty solid, but not at all spicy – I suspect it’s because they cater to the German palate. At one restaurant in Munich (Swagat), I even managed to ask for a plate of chilies on the side. For anyone going to Frankfurt, I would recommend Manolya, a Turkish restaurant in the Bornheim district.
– On that note of eating out, I didn’t speak any German beforehand, and as I hadn’t prepared to be on my own in Germany, I didn’t have any guidebook or phrasebook to help me out. I did download a free English-German dictionary (from FreeLang.net), and I also used the phrases “Sprichst du englisch?” and “Ich spreche kein Deutsch” quite often. Luckily for me, most people in the big cities spoke some English, with the younger generations generally speaking quite fluently.
In the restaurants, though, when I was eating at Indian or Italian restaurants, I got to make use of some Hindi, Italian, and even Spanish! I do plan on learning a bit more before I return for Mainz 2009 though.
– There is a lot of beer drinking in Germany. I generally stuck to standard Hefeweizens and Weissbiers, but occasionally strayed to the darker wheat-beers (Dunkel Hefeweizens) and black-beers (Schwarzbier).
But even after a couple weeks, it was amusing to step onto a Berlin U-bahn and see a couple workers off to the job enjoying a beer at 9 AM. Also, most Germans frown on the idea of putting a slice of lemon into a regular Hefeweizen (amongst other things, it completely destroys the head and dominates some of the flavors in the beer). I only noticed some people using a slice when drinking a Kristalweizen.