Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Bike Tour Germany's Oktoberfest Motorcycle Tour

Do you like riding motorcycles? Straightening out hairpin curves? How about foreign travel? Visiting other cultures and seeing their celebrations, holidays, and sampling their food?

I had the good pleasure of doing all of these things on vacation with a good friend recently, using Bike Tour Germany’s Oktoberfest Motorcycle Tour. Bike Tour Germany (BTG) is a German-owned business owned and operated by Joerg Wenzel. They provide a number European motorcycle tours for large or small groups, including the Oktoberfest tour for English-speaking riders. Wenzel speaks English, and will work with you to make sure your trip is an exciting adventure through the German, Austrian, and Italian countryside, so you can concentrate on the beautiful Alpine scenery, challenging mountain curves, and authentic Gasthof lodging and dining during your trip.

During the planning stages of your trip, you will be presented a number of motorcycle choices so that you can choose a bike appropriate to the terrain, your physical size, and your riding skills level. One of the perennial favorites is also the best selling motorcycle in the world over 500 cc, the BMW R1200GS.  The 1200 is the “Swiss Army Knife” of motorcycles, able to both straighten out hairpin turns and accelerate at Autobahn speeds. A number of other bike choices are available to you, in a variety of sizes and styles. Before you ask, Harley Davidson and other large frame V-twin cruises are not an option, as they lack the mountain goat athleticism required for your best experience in the European Alps.

Let’s talk about riding skills:  In addition to being a tour guide and CEO of BTG, Wenzel is a certified Motorcycle Safety Instructor and is a member of  BVDM (the German Federation of Motorcyclists). You would do well to practice your mountain riding in advance of this trip. Living in Texas, we have plenty of experience accelerating on long, flat expanses or roadway. But Alpine riding is a different animal, so we scheduled a June trip to Colorado to ride the “Million Dollar Highway” in the San Juan Range of the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky excursions are comparatively mild compared to the European Alps, so when you arrive in Europe and have your motorcycle delivered to your Gasthof (a European inn similar to our bed and breakfast lodges), you will become acquainted with your machine in Bavaria’s farmland with gently rolling hills and beautiful green scenery. You will travel south from Munich via the German Autobahn (yes, it is as well maintained as you have heard, and no, it does in fact have speed limits in most areas, particularly as you approach urban encroachments and villages).

You will enter the foothills of the Alps in southern Bavaria and cross the border into Austria. Border crossings in the European Community these days are a piece of cake, much akin to crossing state boundaries in the USA. You will lodge your first night in northern Italy. Incidentally, we were pleased with our accommodations in each of our night’s lodging stops. The food is authentic and the menus varied enough to suit any palate. The Gasthofs selected by BTG actually go out of their way to accommodate the motorcycle tourist, with easy parking, nice rooms, and breakfasts provided. You will practice Alpine riding in the South Tyrol region of northern Italy. South Tyrol is more Austrian than Italian in culture, the language and architecture being distinctively Germanic. My two years of college German, albeit thirty five years ago, came in handy, but with Joerg’s excellent command of the English language, the trip would have been just as convenient for the non-German speaker.

The highlight of our trip was a visit to Austria’s Grossglockner National Park. Mount Grossglockner is the highest peak in the Austrian Alps, and the park surrounding it has a toll road designed by an engineer/motorcyclist specifically for the riding experience of Europe’s many motorcyclists. There are plenty of opportunities for picture taking throughout the trip, and Joerg has the touring experience necessary for helping you select photo opportunities, rest stops, restaurant menus, and alternate routes in the event of traffic or weather problems. BTG uses the “Spot Messenger” service, a satellite uplink which posts your absolute location along the route every ten minutes. Your family in the US can actually track your progress on a Google Maps display. Cellular service is available in cities, towns, and villages, and our iPhones were invaluable in providing friends, family, and followers with Facebook updates along the way!

Did I mention Oktoberfest? Oktoberfest is an annual Bavarian celebration held at Munich’s Theresienweise (Theresa’s Meadow) in September and October each year. It was originally a wedding feast commemorating the marriage of King Ludwig to his young bride, Therese. It is the largest party in the world, with Munich’s population swelling from one and one half million to seven million for several weeks of the year. Yes, there is beer. After all, Oktoberfest is a beer festival, and all of the beers served meet Germany’s strict Reinheitsgebot law for beer purity. The beers are brewed especially for the Oktoberfest celebration, and there are a number of very large tent structures representing Munich’s major breweries, each with seating capacity of up to seven thousand people! Of course, there is plenty of German live oompah music. Be sure to try the local specialties: bratwurst, half chickens, and giant pretzels.  You will travel by train back to your urban Munich hotel for your last night before leaving.

If you like motorcycling, photography, foreign travel, international cuisine, and, perhaps, beer, I highly recommend you take a look at Bike Tour Germany’s: Oktoberfest Motorcycle Tour.

Prost! (Cheers!)

Richard Goodwin is a retired geography teacher living in Dallas Texas.

Joerg Wenzel of Bike Tour Germany can be contacted at www.BikeTourGermany.com for more information.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Talking Dog

A fellow was reading The Dallas Morning News, when he came across an interesting classified ad: For Sale: Talking Dog, $10. The posting intrigued him; he kept leafing back to the ad until he convinced himself that he needed to drive out to the rural address listed and see this dog for himself.
He drove out into the country, and with some searching, found the rural route address, pulled into the farmyard, got out of the car, and approached an old farmer, sitting on the front porch swing, chewing a wad of tobacco.
"Are you the man with the talking dog?" asked the fellow.
"Yep." the farmer replied, and spit off the side of the porch.
"Can I see him?" the fellow asked.
"He's around back" answered the farmer, pointing with his thumb.
The fellow double-timed it around back of the farmhouse, and there he saw an old, yellow dog, chained to a doghouse, sleeping and snoring.
"Hey! Buddy! Are you the talking dog?" asked the fellow, shaking the dog to wake him up.
"Why, yes, I am" answered the dog, yawning and stretching. "Sorry, I was just catching a quick nap. You see, I've been up late working on my dissertation. It's on Castlereagh, Metternich, and the Congress of Vienna during the period from 1815-1822."
"Wow!" said the fellow.
"Well, I would have finished it sooner, but it's hard to type with paws." continued the dog. "Also, I've been preparing for my piano debut at Carnegie Hall. I'll be performing Debussy. Practice takes a log of my time these days, along with charity work I've been doing at the children's hospital."
"Wait right there!" said the fellow, as he quickly ran around the side of the house and found the farmer out front, still sitting on the porch swing.
"You really plan on selling that dog for ten dollars?" asked the fellow.
"Yep." answered the farmer.
"But... don't you know that dog is worth a fortune? You could probably name any price for an animal that valuable! Why are you selling him for ten dollars?" the fellow asked in amazement.
"'Cuz he's a damned liar!" answered the farmer. "He cain't do none of that shit."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Dog, Mick

Mick, my best friend and Border Collie, loves it when the carp are spawning... Breeding in the shallow water, they are easy to chase down and scoop up. Since most of us consider carp to be a "trash fish", it's okay to let him run and play and clean up and lighten up the carp population a little.
Over the years, we've developed a little game. If you didn't know, Border Collies are the smartest breed of dog, and they love games and playing! Our game is a lot like the Halloween party game, "Bobbing for Apples". We both jump in the shallows and use our teeth, but Mick always seem to win! I think he can smell them under the water or something.
If I can chase him down and get my Blue-Blockers sunglasses back, I think I'll have a chance.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ask Mr. Geography

Sylvia, of Dallas, Texas, writes:

Hi Richard,
I can't help but think history will look very favorably upon W for doing what he did in Iraq and for the subsequent consequences of the Mideast countries standing up and fighting for freedom. What do you think?
Mr. Geography:
Hi, Sylvia, thanks for writing. That is an interesting and intriguing question.
I think you are assuming a causal relationship that just isn't there. It's very good that Saddam is gone; but democracy hasn't really started in Iraq, and the US military action in Iraq has as a result left Iran as the major military power in the region. Iraq, like Iran, is majority Shi'a, and you can expect Iraq and its huge oil resources to increasingly tip toward Iran as the government becomes more representative of the Iraqi majority.

Look instead at the self-immolation in Tunisia as the spark that lit the freedom fires across North Africa and Southwest Asia. Egypt has suffered under Mubarak for over a generation, and the abuses, tortures, and political imprisonments that happened under the Mubarak regime are more instrumental in bringing about its demise than anything the US could hope to achieve in this region.

When many educated in Southwest Asia and North Africa think of US foreign policy, they think about the US ouster of the elected government in Iran and institution of the Pahlavi (Shah of Iran) regime. They are also aware of the relationships existing between the US and some of the region's cruelest and most brutal characters, including the ruling Saud family in Saudi Arabia and Mubarak in Egypt. Remember also that Rumsfeld, on behalf of the Reagan/Bush administrations, considered Saddam an ally, providing him with satellite intelligence showing the location of Iranian troops so they could be gassed.

The blooming of democracy in the Middle East is not an American product, nor is it American inspired. But we can take heart in the new turn of US policy in the region, supporting fledging "true" democratic movements. And the people of the region note and approve of that change, even though they remain somewhat (justifiably) suspicious.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You Just Can't Fix Stupid

The State of Texas is turning down $832 million in federal education jobs money because the Governor refuses to sign a statement required by the funding law that the state won't reduce the education budget by an equal amount, then pour the money into other state programs.
But he says he can't do that...
Yesterday, His Hairness scuttled out of a scheduled press conference through a back door, rather than answer reporters' questions about the state budget. He left the state that afternoon to attend political party activities in California.
Blow-dried idiot boy.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Most Aggressive Defense of Teachers You'll Ever Hear

Recently, a good friend of mine posted a video you may have seen, Taylor Mali's "What Do You Make?". In the video, Mali describes being sneeringly asked by a full-of-himself guest at a dinner party what he "makes" as a teacher. If you have not seen Mali's response, you owe it to yourself to view the video, "The Most Aggressive Defense of Teachers You'll Ever See":
As a retired teacher and union rep, I felt that I had to get in my two bits worth. Here's what I had to say:
Yes, I have seen this. I have had dinner party moments such as this! During the current, anti-teacher hysteria that is going around, I have received hateful messages about teachers, our unions, our pensions, and our pay. I have had to "un-friend" Facebook friends, and block complete strangers.
It is true that American students don't look so good compared with other industrialized countries when you look at quantitative data such as math and science scores. But it is also true that in this country, we try to teach all children a curriculum which prepares them for college or university. Most modern democracies test students as early as fourth grade to determine what type of high school they will attend: vocational, trade, or preparatory. We are comparing the scores of 100% of our students with the top 15-25% of students in comparable countries. We do this without apologies or excuses. This is not a fact that one comes across in 15 second sound bites or Fox News commentaries.
You may remember a certain dinner party we were both at a few years ago where friends of friends were aggressively promoting an anti-teacher agenda as dinner table talk. I told the folks at that time, that we do a pretty good job of teaching the kids the people send us. But the nuance was lost on them; they had made up their minds that teachers are a bunch of yellow-fanged socialists with an agenda to promote godless secular humanism among the population at best, or that, at worst, we were entirely incompetent.
Our state voted for our current Governor. They elected each of the right-wingers to the legislature, and there was no secret that their agenda included stripping the public schools of funds. I am tired of making aggressive defenses of my chosen profession. Yes, I write letters. Yes, I attend rallies at the Capitol. And I am greatly saddened that many of my hardworking, competent colleagues will be laid off from their chosen professions this fall in order to satisify an extremist political agenda. But I blame the people of Texas, and the voters in general, for their complacency in allowing this to happen.
They are going to get what they voted for. And, as a result, this country will never again be competitive in the international economy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Brainless" Brats

No, this is not a commentary on neocon Republicans in the Texas House. Rather, here's my sure-fire, idiot proof recipe for bratwursts with that Regensburg taste.

Foil Smoke Pack
Bratwursts (Johnsonville, Omaha Steaks, or others), 4-8
Ein Glas Bier (whatever you have on hand)

Make a foil smoke pack by soaking a couple of ounces of hickory chips in water for an hour. Place the chips in an aluminum foil packet, and perforate with a fork to make smoke vents. Place the foil smoke pack on your charcoals, lava rocks, or heat exchanger.
Close cover and preheat grill to High until the foil packet begins to steam and produce hickory smoke.

On a separate burner, bring half a beer to a slow, rolling boil. I use a wok to conserve beer. Boil the brats in beer for 15 minutes, turning halfway through the boiling time. Add more beer as needed. Save some for yourself.

Try to get a uniform color on the boiled brats, they will "plump up". Make Arnold Schwarzenegger jokes, such as, "I'm here to plump you up".

Place the boiled brats on your hot grill, turning down heat to Medium High.  Close cover and grill for 18-20 minutes, turning at halfway point.

Serve on a roll or hot dog bun with Bavarian mustard and kraut, with a pickle spear on the side. Sehr gut!