We finally made it to Germany! And Essen Spiel...but this is mostly about Germany
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Lisa has been wanting to go to Germany for a long time, since she spent a few years there when she was a child. Since we learned about Essen Spiel, we've figured we would time our Germany trip to visit the Spiel as well. But, one thing or another kept getting in the way of going. Last year, we thought the Geek Nation tour sounded good, but we just didn't have enough spare vacation time.

So this year, when the Geek Nation tour was announced, we decided we were going. Regardless of the problems that were going to come up, we were going. Granted, we weren't sure what we thought of the tour itinerary, but we figured it would be good to have a tour for our first trip overseas.

Then the tour got canceled. Argh! But...we were determined. We were going anyway. Teras from Geek Nation helped us out with the airlines a bit, we got lots of advice from BGG about how to handle the Essen visit, and in October 2011 we left for a two and half week visit to Germany!

This geeklist actually doesn't have a lot of gaming in it. Its mostly a way for us to look back on our vacation. So be warned about what you're getting into.

If you'd just like to know about the games, I've got another geeklist just for that
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1. Board Game: Airport [Average Rating:5.50 Unranked]
Brian M
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Since we'd been planning and preparing like deranged nutcases, all our bags were already packed and ready to go on Thursday morning. We had a ride scheduled to the airport (a present from Lisa's mother), so we could skip the stress of catching a bus or leaving the car for that long.

With nothing to do but wait for a few hours, we played a quick game of Space Hulk in the morning. I figured we wouldn't be getting to play a themey action game for a while

We'd planned for getting to the airport several hours early just to be safe, so to get some exercise we walked along every concourse at the airport. Not that there's a lot to see in the airport, though we did find an interesting side hallway for smaller plane landings that has a nice view of the landscape.

We'd wondered about a good very portable game to play while waiting in the airport, but as it turned out Lisa won an iPad a few weeks before (whee!) so we figured that was a perfect travel ready time killer. For the last bit of waiting, we played games of Ghost Stories and PicoGP Tactics; both good pass and play iPad games.

(The picture here has nothing whatsoever to do with this part of the trip, but I had no appropriate picture to go here and saw a chance to squeeze in one more castle picture )
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2. Board Game: Airlines Europe [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:342]
Brian M
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Having never flown Lufthansa before or an international flight before, it was a bit of a shock to us. Actually getting served a real meal on the plane, having free movies available. Though we didn't actually watch the movies, since our plan for adjusting to the time change involved sleeping on the plane. A task that I failed miserably at.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, Lisa glanced out her window and saw that we were now chasing the sunset; the horizon was glowing ahead of us, and kept doing so for a long time. The clouds and sky ahead was lit up in amazing hues of pink.

We were very excited when we reached England and the weather was clear enough to see the land below, and then the strange groups of wind turbines in the English Channel and boats sailing around them.

As we began our descent into Frankfurt airport, we were amazed at how green the landscape was and how incredibly blue the rivers were.

At last, we'd reached Germany! Customs was painless to go through, and we set out of the task of figuring out how to use the German rail system.
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3. Board Game: Railways of Europe [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked]
Brian M
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As it turned out, the German rail system was pretty simple to use. Though we, along with another American, were pretty puzzled when someone cut in front of all of us in line for the information booth. Apparently, one crowds in a lot closer to wait in line in Germany

Soon, however, we were riding across the countryside - after having to struggle to get our heavy cases up the narrow stairs inside the train to the first class section on top. (While we wanted lots of free space for bringing games back, we'd decided to pack it with vitamin waters as we figured drink like that might be hard to find - which was correct).

The countryside was lovely, from the thick forests to the hills covered with grape fields. We were headed for Boppard on the Rhine, the Lorelei valley (suggested by Marc from Geekchat!) with hopes that it was a good place to enjoy a few days before the Spiel.

As we arrived in Boppard, it was looking from the scenery like it would be a good place indeed!
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4. Board Game: Road to the Rhine [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:7051]
Brian M
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Lisa had printed google maps of the area, but it was a bit hard to get our bearings and find street names. We struggled the big cases down the stairs and set off in search of our bed and breakfast.

After navigating down a narrow alley and dodging cars, we found ourselves walking on a cobblestone path along the Rhine. I'm probably going to wear out phrases like "everything is beautiful" and "gorgeous scenery" in descriptions here. The town we walked past was charming, and the scenery was lovely. After passing by the docks for all the Rhine cruise ships, we went through series of small park areas, including a courtyard with a giant chess board several yards across and a pair of guys playing a chess game with giant plastic pieces.

Our hosts at Haus Weller turned out to be extremely friendly, and the room looked very nice - though we were a bit puzzled about the odd bed coverings that consisted only of a single double folded comforter. Don't they know what sheets are in Germany?

We didn't plan on doing much the first day, especially as late as we got in, but we figured we needed to stay up late enough to go to sleep at a nearly reasonable time and thereby adjust to the local time zone.

We walked through Boppard looking for a place to get some dinner. Our host had suggested Severus Stube, but it proved hard to find, and we were getting very hungry. However, we weren't having a lot of luck in the food department in general - most places looked closed. Finally, we tracked down Severus Stube, walked in...and saw a bunch of people sitting around all NOT eating, who all looked at us. We stood there for a few moments, with no employee greeting us in any way, and everyone else staring at us. Then we turned around and left.

We were feeling a little baffled at this point, but in the main courtyard of Boppard we found a nice looking place called Alte Schmide which had just opened. We had delicious schnitzel and kartoffel.

As it turns out, most restaurants in Germany don't stay open all day - they close for a while between lunch and dinner. We'd walked into Severus Stube half an hour before it was ready to open.

Back at the bed and breakfast, we struggled to stay awake a bit longer and played Medici on the iPad. Lisa kept having to wake me up for my turns.

And it was to sleep, hoping we'd be able to adjust to the time change.
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5. Board Game: Railways of Europe [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked]
Brian M
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Our first day plan was way off from any usual tourist choice. Lisa had lived in Germany when she was a child, and wanted to visit her old house. We thought this might be the trickiest thing we wanted to do in Boppard, since it would involve a few train transfers, and so figured we should try it early so we could try again if it went wrong.

We set off, enjoying the wonderful view from the train. We got a later start than planned since we just missed the first train and had to wait a while but we successfully got another train in ?? - a nice fast ICE that would quickly carry us all the way to Konz, in quiet private comfort up in the first class cabin.

Then, halfway through that trip at a small stop, the train didn't start up again. They announced that there was an engine problem, and there would be a half hour delay. Ok, not a problem. Just a delay. Then, at the next stopped, it stopped again and didn't start. We were all told to exit the train and than another train would be along shortly. Oops!

Our replacement train was not an ICE, and was much slower and stopped at just about every stop along the way. And we were now had no first class section and were accompanied by a very loud girl's soccer team. But at least we were going again!

This time, we needed to transfer in Trier. And got very confused about train numbers and missed our train. Oops again.

This left us with an hour to kill, so we walked out and headed to the first interesting thing we could find. In this case, the ancient basilica. This was amazing to see. A huge, towering church, impressively decorated and surrounded by statue filled gardens.



And we even made it back in time to make our train!
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6. Board Game: Home You Go [Average Rating:4.12 Unranked]
Brian M
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We did finally reach Konz, and were now faced with the challenge of having to find someplace that Lisa hasn't been in over a decade.

We started out in one direction, then climbed up to a bridge across the railway to get a good view and headed the other direction. We weren't very sure where we were going, but the scenery was nice. We wandered past a very old looking cemetary, wound through a short stretch of forest, and then back into town. Winding through the streets, Lisa spotted what looked like the right path and we started up a very steep hill. We went up for a ways, then hit something Lisa's been telling me about for a long time. She's often talked about how wonderful it was to have a forest right in her backyard when she was a child, and how the forests in Colorado just aren't the same.

We'd found her forest, and it was beautiful. So wonderfully green. I can see why she misses it so much.

We walked through for a ways until we reached an end to the path, and across from it a big map of the neighborhood, which was very helpful in finding Lisa's old house. The hill that she remembered zooming down on her bicycle seemed small now to her, and the house had changed a lot. We walked through the streets, spotting some places she recognized. It was a charming, cozy feeling area, a place I could see living. Though driving looked tricky - the streets were very narrow.

We finally, reluctantly, turned back and wandered through the forest as long as we thought we could get away with before it got dark, exploring different paths.

On the walk back, we were treated to the evening bells from the church in the town below, resounding up the hills.

For dinner, we'd spotted a pizza place on the way in and decided this would be a good time to eat a 4 seasons pizza, which Lisa's mother had said we should eat for her. However, we failed to find the place we spotted, and then wandered lost following signs to Pinnochio's pizza, which we were beginning to expect didn't really exist. We found it as we were about to give up, and have something that might have been a 4 seasons pizza, though the egg was hard boiled and cut up instead of fried on top.

On then succesfully made it to the train to make our way back to Boppard.
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7. Board Game: Hanabi & Ikebana [Average Rating:7.47 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.47 Unranked]
Brian M
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We had two big things we wanted to do in Boppard. One was to go to Konz. Check. The second was to take a boat cruise down the Rhine.

This was extremely easy to do as we were just a short walk away from the docks in Boppard, so Sunday morning we boarded the KD ship and enjoyed the trip, passing by several castles including Castle Maus and Katz, the Enemy Brothers castles, and a few others.



In St. Goar, we disembarked and rode the little train up to the top of the hill to tour Rhinefels castles. This castle is in ruins, but is amazing to explore, with lots of courtyards, towers, and very dark passageways. And a fantastic view of the surrounding scenery.



We made it back down in perfect time to board the next ship coming back and enjoy lunch and a very decadent chocolate sundae while watching the river scenery.

We decided not to take the boat the whole way though, and picked (somewhat randomly) Bacharach to get off at. As often, a charming town with old fashioned buildings on cobblestone streets. We asked at the dock information about good hiking, and were directed to the Stahleckpfad footpath. This steep but enjoyable hike started at the church of St. Peter, went past the ruins of Werner Chapel and continued up, except that we took a barely used looking side path through the woods overlooking a farming valley below. We eventually reached a bridge that I'm fairly sure has a troll living under it, and a road. Since the road was less interesting, we turned back and followed the original road to the (compared to Rhinefels) small Burg Stahleck, which contains a small cafe and a overlooks a fantastic view.



And then a hike back down to catch a KD boat going the other way and have a relaxing (if somewhat cold outside in the evening) trip back to Boppard.

Cruise on the Rhine - check!

We decided to revisit Severus Stube with a slightly better understanding of how German restaurants worked. Had a very nice dinner - and chatted with a couple from Amsterdam who's son lives in Colorado. Small world!

(Oh...and then we played some Hanabi back at the B&B. Hence using it for this entry. We lost both games)
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8. Board Game: Hang in There! [Average Rating:6.02 Overall Rank:9568]
Brian M
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We'd see an ad when we arrived for the Sesselbanh chairlift shortly after we arrived. This was down on the other end of Boppard. It goes up the side of a hill on the edge of town, rising up 240 meters over a long trip and giving a wonderful view of the countryside.

Up at the top of the hill, we wandered around a variety of paths (some so thoroughly covered with autumn leaves we couldn't really tell where the path was), enjoyed the breathtaking view of the bend in the Rhine, and had lunch at the restaurant on top of the hill.



Eventually, after a lot of exploring, we rode back down. We'd considered taking the train again, but decided to just be lazy and see all of Boppard. By evening we were in the mood for something different, and went to the Spiegel Garten Chinese restaurant, which was very good and a bit different from Chinese food in America.

We concluded the evening with a long walk down the Rhine as it was getting dark. We went far enough that we could look back and see the lights of Boppard up the river from us.

Our walking was somewhat hampered by my knee being in constant pain. Turns out the heel of my shoe had partly collapsed. But that evening Lisa demonstrated her MacGuyver skills by filling in the collapsed area with torn strips of newspaper, putting me on somewhat level footing again.

We made sure to be all packed and ready to go to leave for Essen the next day!
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9. Board Game: Railways of Europe [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked]
Brian M
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For the most part, the weather had been beautiful for the trip. Not too cold, not too hot. Tuesday was the first time it decided to be chilly and nasty. However, since we were spending most of Tuesday on the train to Essen, this was perfect timing.

The Essen Hbf station was much, much larger than the fairly small train stations we'd been at so far, and was a little overwhelming! They did, however, have escalators, so we didn't have to lug the suitcases up and down quite as many stairs. We would have had to take even less had more of the escalators actually been working.

From the rail station, we took the U-Bahn with a minimum of difficulty. When we got to our stop however, the escalators in the direction of the Messe Essen, and the Atlantic Congress Hotel, were out. But, surely it couldn't be that far if we just went out the other way, right?

As it turned out, it was far enough that we couldn't see the hotel where we came out. So we did wander in the rain a bit - but not too far.

The Atlantic Congress was a very nice hotel, if a little pricey. Big comfy room, and a really nice shower. Still no sheets on the bed though
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10. Board Game: Cathedral [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:1657]
Brian M
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What to do then? The original plan was to go to Koln for the evening, but it was getting a bit late. However, we did want to go ahead and get tickets for the Spiel, so we reversed our path back to the rail stations (discovering that the escalator right in front of the Messe Essen actually leads a ways though underground tunnels before reaching the main station).

We managed to find the tourist office and get tickets, then wandered around Essen a bit despite the light drizzle. We wandered past a large impressive green building (with no idea of what it was), then to a shopping area where I couldn't resist stopping in the Games Workshop store. Which is pretty much the same in Germany as it is at home

Then we had no idea what to do, so we boarded the train for Koln, wondering if we could find anything interesting there. On the train ride, we chatted with a local on the train who suggested we check out the Koln Dome. He also recommended a restaurant called "Paffgen", saying it would be easy to find.

We weren't sure about finding either. We arrived, got off the train, took about ten steps out and Lisa, who was looking in the opposite direction from me, grabbed my shoulder and said "I think we found something interesting!"

Wow. The Koln Dome is awe inspiring; huge towers reaching for the sky. It was very hard to take pictures of - its so huge its impossible to fit more than a little part of it into the frame! (And I'd left the camera behind on account of the rain, so was stuck taking iPod pictures).

We walked around the base marveling at it. It was closing up soon, but we had just about the right amount of time to walk through the interior, with its fantastic stained glass windows and huge vaulted ceilings.

Afterwards, we set out to find Paffgen. Which started to feel like a snipe hunt, as we asked at a few stores and received directions that seemed to keep leading us in circles. We'd almost given up when we finally blundered into it in the old section of town.

And then an evening train ride back, watching the city lights - and the strange tower with green glows all up on the sides. I think it might have been a martian landing tower
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11. Board Game: Great Day in the Park Game [Average Rating:2.50 Unranked]
Brian M
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Wednesday started with the thrill of having a full size shower and a bar of soap. Ahhhh.

There's apparently not a lot to do in Essen. One thing that had been recommended was the GrugaPark. It had been recommended to some other BGGers looking for something to do on Wednesday as well, so we met up with Jan (who had killed both Lisa and I in the Dungeon of Doom) and his wife Christine near the entrance of the GrugaPark.

The Gruga is sort of a huge botanic gardens, with a variety of plants and different garden areas, waterfalls, and lots of winding mazelike paths. And pelicans wandering around with little regard for humans walking past. There are greenhouses with plants from other climates and several cages with a variety of birds. We spend a while watching a very energetic parrot who came over and clung to the edge of the cage to say hi, and liked bobbing up and down while he was dancing. We chatted with the other geeks about gaming, and then they left in the afternoon. Lisa and I were enthralled with the GrugaPark, so we enjoyed lunch there at the Orangerie restaurant and kept wandering.



We found or way down to bridges across the pond area, walked around the waterfall and discovered secret little bench areas near there.

We also were trying to figure out what the odd "palace-ish" building in the corner of the park was. By the signs, it had something to do with the Ronald McDonald house. We'd see it at a distance, and it was a little tricky to get close to. There were no signs at all about what it was, but the door was slightly open. So, we peeked in - and promptly had a woman get up from a table where a group of people were having some sort of conference and storm at us very annoyed going "Nein! Nein!" I think we interrupted some kind of secret society meeting.

To make our wandering decisions easier we took turns picking which way to go at each turn. In a hedge garden area, we were sitting in a little shelter enjoying the gardens when we noticed an elderly woman walking past who was occasionally stopping, carefully picking flowers...and eating them. Err...ok, there are some strange things going on in the GrugaPark!

Having decided to make it a lazy day, we went back to our hotel when the weather turned bad, deciding we might come back later - though we had some difficulty figuring out when the park could close. We relaxed, played some games, managed to beat the iPad Ghost Stories on normal difficulty, listened to the hail outside, and turned to Google to find places to go for dinner.

Ok, places for dinner easily found. Just turn left on GrugaPlatz strasse and turn right on another street. Several restaurants. We were optimistic. We walked to the front desk, and asked where GrugaPlatz strasse was.

They looked at us like we'd just asked for directions to Mars. After some discussion, they could only think that referred to the area Right outside the Messe Essen, and were sure there was no such street. We were slightly less optimistic.

However, with a small bit of wandering we spotted a street sign for - yay - GrugaPlatz! Running right past the Atlantic Congress hotel. Did we horribly mispronounce it or something? We had a slightly fancy dinner at La Turka.

Then we decided to go back to the park in the evening. But we got there and the entrance booth was all closed. I was quite disappointed. Then Lisa pointed out that there was a gate standing wide open, and a few people came out. Hmmm...so...was it ok to go in? We'd had to pay in the morning. We weren't sure we were really supposed to or not, but when the heck - we went in anyway, figuring that at some point we might be having to explain how we were domkopf Americans

This time we went down the Hirschgehenge trail, where we went past a lake and saw blue herons.

We also saw this sign:



Isn't that great? I can only assume it means "Its ok to jump in the lake, but don't have too much fun doing it".

As it got darker, we kept wandering through dark little paths. We still weren't sure if we were supposed to be here, but we kept seeing joggers, so we figured we were probably ok. Though for the sheer fun of it we kept trying to dodge people.

Wonderful, wonderful park.

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12. Board Game Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Brian M
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Thursday. Its time for Essen Spiel!

The crowd to go in was huge. More and people just kept squishing into the entrance hall lining up to go in. Inside it was gigantic; several huge halls all filled with game vendors and companies.

Our main goal Thursday was getting games that we weren't sure would be around too long (some things sell out fast). This led to kind of a rocky start to the con. Too much rushing around and stressing. We were particularly eager for CGE's Dungeon Petz and Last Will (though we knew essentially nothing about Last Will besides "we've liked all their other games )

Once we'd managed to rush a little less, we sat down for some demos. We played A Fistful of Penguins and had to get it. We wanted to try Takenoko at the Asmodee booth, but it was all busy so we settled for a demo of TSCHAK! at the time and returned late in the day for Takenoko.

We discovered it was very tough finding space at the Hans im Glück booth. You had to grab a table (or part of a table) the instant you had a chance. We managed to grab a chunk of table, and Lisa read the rules for Space Mission. We were ready to play 2 player when a guy showed up asking if we could teach in English. Which was NOT a problem for us, so we taught Rory how to play as well. Nice game - had to buy it later.

Since we had space, we decided we shouldn't give it up afterwards and grabbed Hawaii. One of the demo stuff nicely taught us (though she had to struggle with a few of the English terms).

Afterwards we wandered back and managed to play Takenoko, then grabbed a demo of Meltdown 2020 right as the Spiel was closing for the day.

We weren't sure what we thought. Did we really want to spend all four days here? We thought we might make it a short day tomorrow, though we did really want to come back for a promo that hadn't arrived yet today.

Feeling exhausted, we wanted something quick and easy for dinner, and had a hard time picking a place. We wound up at Saka, a greek place. Where the employees didn't speak English at all. And we weren't sure what a lot of menu items were. But one of the employees conveyed, "you should try this!", and we did - and got a great sampler platter of lots of different meats and veggies. Yummm.

We finished off the night with another walk through the GrugaPark, which we were fairly sure by now that we were allowed to be in.

If that seemed a little light on game content for you, I'm putting all our game comments in a geeklist of their own, since otherwise this one will be insanely huge. Check it out here.
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13. Board Game: The Bridge to Treasure Cave [Average Rating:5.63 Overall Rank:13275]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Friday. Did we really want to stay long or not? Today, we were just going to relax and play games.

This was a much, much more enjoyable day, and we did wind up staying all day and having a great time.

We started with a quick demo of Ocean Limbo. Then I dragged Lisa into playing The Bridge to Treasure Cave. Giant, life-sized Die Brücke am Rio D'Oro! They had a "bridge" built with a set of stairs on either with big planks to get flipped over and removed. They had big foam "nuggets" painted gold. Backpacks to put your loot in as you moved across the bridge. This was awesome. The game was ok, but playing on the life size version was incredibly cool. This more than made up for not getting to play on the giant chess board in Boppard

We also demoed Dungeon Fighter, Wiraqocha, Teneriffa, Pictomania (which we had to buy, thus getting the whole CGE lineup for the year!), Sewer Pirats, Logan Stones, Rubik's Race (I cannot even begin to compete with Lisa at that) and finally Lamborghini: The Official Race Game.

For lunch, I was craving something different - err, actually something more familiar. Mexican or American. We got hamburgers for lunch at the Spiel which were, let's just nicely say "not so good". But a little later we got a piece of some kind of raspberry chocolate cake that made up for it.

We also wandered into some of the non-game areas of the Spiel. The comic area was really kind of creepy; decorated with large posters of ridiculous looking women in outfits that most exhibitionists would be reluctant to wear. Overall, the comic area felt dirty and squalid compared to the bright, active, lively game area. We escaped as quickly as possible.

Overall, a good day of gaming with lots of fun games tried. We were worn out and decided to just eat at the hotel. This caused some puzzlement.

You see, we'd finally figured out how German restaurants work. You seat yourself. You ask for the bill if you want it anytime soon. Except...fancy restaurants like at the Atlantic Congress hotel work differently! They seat you...this alone baffled us The pasta we had for dinner was very good, but a bit pricey.

And of course we had to walk in the GrugaPark again. We tried some new paths, watched an owl flying around in its cage, and took a long walk going left around the park where we'd usually gone right. We found a creepy, dark, moss and grass covered path near the back of the park that we walked on; with a dark night and no overhead lights, we occasionally had to pull out flashlights to make sure we were staying on the path!
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14. Board Game: Invasion Defense [Average Rating:5.70 Unranked]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Saturday. Essen Spiel. More gaming. Need I say more?

Saturday was crowded. Veryyyyy crowded. Insanely crowded. After breakfast, we sat in the Atlantic Congress lobby and played a game of Invasion Defense (a win!) while watching the huge crowd in line through the window and waiting for it to go down a bit.

When we finally made it inside, it seemed like it would be quite a challenge to get into a game, so we wandered into the one place we hadn't seen so far; the RPGish area. Which included some impressive shops with armor, swords, dresses and all sorts of cool things.

We tried two games we probably wouldn't have otherwise noticed there. Kroz Masters, which featured cute chibi-style minis (I think that's the right term), and Interstellar Mayhem, a fast playing spaceship dogfight game.

In the afternoon was a quick event that I'd looking forward to. Some of you may know that BGG has a chat feature that doesn't see a lot of use, but has a few regulars. Well, a bunch of us regulars were going to be at the Spiel! Geekchatters from Germany, Sweden, New York, Colorado and more were going to say hi in person

It was fun to meet everyone in person, though it was a brief meeting - everyone wanted to get to their games

Afterward Lisa and I enjoyed crepes and ice cream - the best food we'd had at the Spiel building.

We really wanted to try Helvetia, so we braved the mess at the Kosmos booth. We waited in ambush, managed to get a copy to play, and then played a game sitting tucked on a corner of the floor. I feel that if we hadn't we wouldn't have gotten the full Essen experience

Then we'd decided we'd had enough of the crowds and wanted to see the GrugaPark again while it was light. We played a game at the GrugaPark; I'd prepared a few slips with different locations in the park, and Lisa and I each secretly took some. Then we took turns picking directions at intersections to try to reach our destination first. Lisa clobbered me.

We did find some new areas; a neat overlook platform in the middle of the forest, some new paths and statues, and, seeking out the moss covered path we couldn't see when we walked on before, we discovered a "playground" area which included a big zip line like ride. We just had to try it. We're kids at heart!

We made it back to the Spiel in time to grab an empty table of Kingdom Builder. We were joined by a man and his son from Germany, which made for an interesting game since his son didn't speak English and I didn't speak German.

Then we met Marc and Manuel from geekchat (and two of Marc's friends) for dinner. We wound up at Kasa again. This time people could help us translate
We meant to show them a quick overview of Invasion Defense, but food took so long we played the whole game.

It was fun comparing notes with Marc. He'd recently been to the US from Germany, so we could discuss all the things we found odd about Germany which he found the inverse of odd in the US.

Afterward, the place had managed to lose our leftovers, so they made Lisa and I a fresh meal to take for later.

We said goodbye to the geekchatters, and took one more walk around the GrugaPark before bed.

Side note: The picture is Dungeon Fighter, from the day before. We didn't really have any good pics from this day
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15. Board Game: Tower of Terror [Average Rating:4.00 Unranked]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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This may sound completely heretical, but by Sunday we were kind of burned out on games. We'd played everything we really wanted to, and were worn out with the crowds (I'm very unfond of crowds).

However, we'd scheduled a demo of Murder! Mystery! Mastermind!, and really wanted to make it to that. We were able to get in to the first demo of it, and they showed us another of their games, Dive! Diver! Die! (a quick push-your-luck game) while we waited for more players.

Then we decided we'd venture back to Koln again, and perhaps get some better pictures of the Dome with the real camera. On the subway, it was neat seeing so many people carrying newly bought games!

The Dome was every bit as impressive as last time, but being Sunday there was mass going on and we couldn't see much of the inside. So we walked somewhat at random through the streets, watching various street performers. One was singing, one was playing a steel drum with many tones, and some were dressed as everything from a Roman soldier to angels. While nothing was quite as awesome as the Koln Dome, there were quite a few other impressive and old buildings.

We made our way to the Rhine and down it, then found one of the things we wanted to see in Koln - the Lindt chocolate museum We kind of skimmed the museum part, but enjoyed their greenhouse with cocoa plants, and the factory demo area which was filled with fascinating machinery - and samples of wafers dipped in some of the tastiest chocolate we've ever had (we might have looped past more than once...) Afterward we had a slice of chocolate cake in the Chocolat cafe.

Wandering back around past whatever happened to look interesting. And managed to walk past the nearly impossible to find Paffgen without even trying!

When we got back to the Dome, we noticed that you could go up to the bell tower. This sounded neat. Except that we didn't quite know what this would involve.

The stairway to the bell tower is 500 odd steps going up almost 500 feet. Its a tight, winding spiral staircase with windows that show very clearly how very high up you're getting. The staircase behind seems to drop off into nothing, and its about wide enough for one person, but you've got crowds coming down bumping into you and nothing to hold onto since the handrail is on the other sides.

Have I mentioned that I'm...er...really not fond of heights? And did I mention that I don't like crowds and people bumping into me and had kind of reached my limit with the Spiel? Going up a seemingly endless staircase...it was pretty nightmarish!

However, we reached the bell tower just as the late afternoon bells began to sound. This was an awesome, if very loud experience (the employee there was cautioning everyone to keep their hands over their ears).

We continued to the top of the stone stairs, which leads to a big round room with a newer set of metal stairs spiraling up with very little around them. I decided that making it to the top of the main tower was as much as I could take, but Lisa went up the rest of the stairs. While she was up there (and out of sight), an elderly custodian came up and began indicating that everyone should leave. In German. I could understand the gestures and "schnell, schnell", but beyond that I was clueless, and trying to indicate that I was waiting for someone, but he didn't rush me out so much that I couldn't wait for Lisa. The trip down was at least a bit less terror inducing, if very exhausting and hard on the legs!



On the walk back, we saw one more street performer - who had wind up puppets dancing with a real rat.

In spite of our tired legs, we really wanted one final walk through the GrugaPark. We went past the waterfall, sat in the secret hidden spot, walked through the garden, found a new path with rough logs, rode on the zip line thing, went past the gasseum which had scary looking silhouette in the window (the place overall can be a bit creepy at night!). We went around the hirschgehege and found a little platform out on the lake where we sat for bit. (Though I scared off some birds by clunking a chair). And then out. We were really going to miss it!

Our Essen experience was over - tomorrow we'd be off to Bavaria!

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16. Board Game: Railways of Europe [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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When we originally planned the trip, I had some serious reservations about spending an entire day on the train. But Lisa pointed out that after a busy weekend at the Spiel, it would probably be nice to just relax. She was, of course, right.

As a side note, while waiting for our train, I noticed the guy sitting next to us had what was clearly a case of games - small world! (He was the designer of The Resistance, a game I'm very fond of)

Despite our first class pass, we found a nice private second class cabin and had a relaxing trip to Augsburg, with a tasty lunch of pea soup on the train and a few games on the iPad. When we transferred, it was a little confusing since there were 2 trains showing as leaving from the exact same gate at the exact same time. As it turned out, this was one train that was going to split later - we needed to make sure we were in the right half! We passed a lot of scenic countryside which became more and more rural. Some train stops were just one little shelter. In addition to cattle, horses and sheep we saw a herd of deer. And 2 cats, each laying in a field.

When we arrived at Fussen, at the end of the train line, it was somewhat unnervingly small looking. We found our bus at Fussen with help from a friendly elderly gentleman on a bike, who also advised us on where to get off. But he didn't think there was anywhere to stay in Berghoff, the town we were headed to. A shop owner at the train station had mentioned the same sentiment (in fact, she had asked why in the world we'd be going that way at this hour!) We did get to see castle Neuschwanstein out the window on the way up, which looked neat in the dark. We reached our stop...and had no idea where to go, as there were just houses all around. Luckily, our host spotted us and came out to meet us!

Haus Jackson in Bavaria is a beautiful house. One part dates back to medieval times, while the "newer" part of the house is still 200 years old. It has a tiered upper level with a piano room, reading room and dining room. We had our choice of rooms, and picked the Lord Byron room in the newer part of the house. Our hosts offered us tea and homemade cake, and we felt very refined as we sat and sipped it.

While it was late, we were eager to explore and went for a long night walk. We walked through the small town, which was dark and mostly closed and past the neat church at the bottom of the hill. The stars were amazing there, with very little surrounding light to dim them, and the mountains were majestic silhouettes against the night sky.
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17. Board Game: Castle [Average Rating:6.10 Overall Rank:3171]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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In the morning, we quickly discovered one of the advantages of staying in the middle of farmland; breakfast included fruit salad made with fruits from the garden, apple juice from the trees outside, bread from the baker next door fresh baked that morning, and all sorts of delicious local cheeses and meats. Yummm.

Our main reason for being in Bavaria was to visit Neuschwanstein, which Lisa had been to as a child but mostly remembered that they had to walk up to the castle instead of taking the bus to the top of the hill.

So we took the bus to the top of the hill. Except we decided to NOT take the bus from the bed and breakfast to Hoenschwangau...it was only about 8 km, why not walk?

This was a very, very, long walk.

On the bright side, it was an incredibly beautiful walk. We walked past serene farms, scenic mountains, lakes with drifting fog, narrow wooded paths, streams with leaves blowing across them.



In the distance, castle Neuschwanstein in the mountains got slowly closer.

I thought we'd get to Schwangau and take a bus from there the rest of the way. Then we got there...and there was no sign of where to go. Actually, we'd gotten to a small set of buildings that we mistook for Schwangau. This made us very confused. We dad lunch at the bistro in the super-market and then finally found the right path to walk all the way to Hoenschwangau itself.

We toured both castles. Hoenschwangau castle first, which feels more like a very big mansion than a castle. Very, very big. With very, very valuable treasures in it. The tour was led by a gentleman with a lot of amusing anecdotes, which was fun.

Then we did take the bus to Neuscheanstein. It was quite impressive. We especially liked the entryway with different carvings on each pillar top, the artificial grotto, the pillars in the singers hall (Which indluded a dragon, swan, unicorn, bear climbing up a post, and more). Really neat to see - they rushed you through too much though! I would have liked more time in each room.



We managed to catch the last bus down (with thanks from our poor legs) and had dinner in the Lisl restaurant below. Which included pumpkin soup. Never had pumpkin soup before!

We decided to not repeat our return walk, and made it back via bus. With some nervousness - there were lots of signs and info about where to wait for the bus to Fussen, but no indication of how to go the other way!
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18. Board Game: Gipsy King [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:2948]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Wednesday we were supposed to meet some friend's of Lisa's family that they had known since Germany. The plan was to go to one of the castles and have dinner. We were a little nervous since we had no way of contacting them, but we assumed things would work fine.

We started with a morning walk up the road through the village, which gave us a wonderful view of fog shrouded mountains and forests and Neuschwanstein.

Then we waited. And waited. And played some games. And eventually were able to borrow our host' phone and find that their car had died that morning. Oops!

So...what to do now? We really hadn't counted on the train issues. Since the bus only ran until about 6:30 in the winter, we couldn't go anywhere and reasonably hope to get back in time for a bus. But we decided we'd make the best of it.

We walked down through down to the Sesslebahn that went up the mountain. It was closed. Hmm.

Ok, lunch. We tried the Sonne restaraunt, having Onion soup and putenschnitzel Hawaii. Yummmm. Ok. Things were looking up a little!

A little farther down we found a tourist office, got information about bike rentals which we might use the next day, and got advice for hiking into the mountains nearby.

And so we hiked up instead of taking the chairlift. Through the forest. We got to a split trail, and asked a local hiker for advice. She said that the Six Lakes view trial was prettier, but longer and steeper. Prettier it was! And yes, it was steep. Very, very steep. And very, very beautiful.

When we finally got to the top, the view was fantastic. Lakes, mountains, clouds and fields stretching as far as the eye could see. We sat for a long time watching in wonder.

We took a detour loop on the way down, winding through a valley with towering trees and mountains rising up around us.



Not much for wildlife, aside from a tiny toad hopping along the path. We walked through an area where lots of people had made stone little stone piles, and figured we should make some of our own. For, um...luck. We labeled ours. If anyone hikes the area and sees it, let us know!

On the road back down, we started hearing a beautiful medley of bells. We were a little surprised when we realized it was cowbells. Cowbells. Seriously. I had no idea how they would sound so neat! We did also find one poor cow all alone mooing alone. I think she wanted to join the herd.

We had dinner at Poseidon's Restaurant. The fried eggplant and zucchini appetizer may have been one of the best things I've ever eaten.

Wonderful scenery. Wonderful food. Maybe we didn't need a train to anywhere else after all.
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19. Board Game: Bridge [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:582]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Thursday morning got off to a much easier start then expected. Renate, our host, had bikes to lend us! And she had made sandwiches for us with breakfast leftovers.

There were a few paths near the castles that we had wanted to take the other day, but passed on due to time. So we biked the same path we'd walked - which went a lot faster.

It was a foggy morning. Heavy layers; when we got to the first lake, we couldn't even see it through the fog! We discovered we'd actually taken a wrong turn last time. The correct path was not only a bit shorter, but along that stretch even nice, going down a forested path beside a stream. We made it to Hoenschwangau a lot faster than last time, browsed some shops in town, and began walking up the path to the Neuschwanstein. Partway up, we had a choice; one path led to the Marienbruecke bridge, which we wanted to see. It was dirt and no one else was taking it, while the main path was paved with lots and lots of travelers. Of course we had to take the dirt path! It was a quiet, peaceful walk in the woods, mostly alone except for the occasional black squirrel watching us with curiosity.

The rickety Marienbruecke bridge appeared to be going into nothing. The fog was so think around it we could barely see anything. Lisa observed that she could hold out her arm and see her shadow on the fog in front of her. We crossed the bridge, and began winding up the mountain. We passed a lot of majestic views with clouds and fog going past, with a valley and river below and mountains all around.

After a long walk, we came to an overlook. We were looking down on a sea of clouds with mountain peaks rising through them, and the spires of Neuschwanstein through the clouds below. I can't possibly do this justice with words or with the pictures we took. It felt like we were looking into another world, hovering in the sky above it. We spent a long time there, and went a bit farther up until we eventually decided to turn back.



On the way down, we decided to share on the sandwiches Renatta had packed for us. They were pretty boring; just a little ham and cheese on bread. Yeah. Turns out fresh ham, local farm made cheese and fresh baked bread tastes amazingly good!

We had more great views on the way down; the clouds were blowing through the valleys. When we made it back to the bridge, we could actually even see the castle.

To get back down, I wanted to take the Poellatschlucht path. Lisa pointed out (quite accurately) that she wasn't sure this went all the way, since it was on the wrong side of the mountain. But...the sign showed Hoenschwangau that way. It did, really! We went down a long series of stone steps to an impressive waterfall. With even more steps going down, and almost no one going that way. I finally decided to ask someone, and so when the next person came up I asked if the path led to town in the best German I could muster. And the guy looked at me with confusion and replied in perfect English "I'm sorry, I don't speak German!" Oops. He didn't know where the path went. Another woman assured us it ended at the waterfall below. But...the sign SAID it led to town! Really! We went down anyway. There was a series of little waterfalls, and a stretch of sandy bank with lots of little rock piles. What is it with little rock piles in Germany? We saw a rocky outcropping with metal caging over it - I assume its to keep the rocks from forming into piles

We followed the path into the woods (after someone asked US if the path went to town. Guess we weren't the only confused ones!). Then we saw how we were getting around the mountain. There was a series of narrow metal bridges along a rock face above the river. Steep, narrow, and very wobbly. Very cool! It was a very neat walk along those, and we did indeed eventually come to town.



We had a nice ride back. Saw a lot of horses - some with cowbells, and some young horses running and playing in a pasture. We made it back and played some games, and finalized the new plans to meet Lisa's family's friends.

We still had a while though, so we went for a little walk to the church up the hill (lots of churchs around). Near the church we found a nearly hidden little nature trail that wound around to a small monument. We walked back through the old fashioned neighborhoods and farms, watching assorted roosters and rabbits running around.

That evening, Achim picked us up and drove us to Bad Kolgrub. We noticed with amusement that the electronic speed limit signs give you smiley faces if you're going under the speed limit and frowny faces if you go over it. Achim showed us his impressive HO train setup, then he and Friedel took us out to the Johanessbad hotel and restaurant, and the fanciest and possibly best dinner we had all trip. A four course dinner w/ veal, salad cream soup (I was skeptical, but it was delicious), venison and dessert.
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20. Board Game: Bisikle [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:3226]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Friday, we perhaps should have gone somewhere else...but we were loving the local scenery so much we just wanted to explore more. We took the bikes and bicycled around the small Jllstrasee lake and then the much larger Forgensee. We were a bit lost to start until we found the Jllstrasee overlook and could see the Forgensee through a channel.

We biked over a dam, and took several small side paths. One down to the water through forest, one to a boat dock. The path went through a lot of pretty wooded areas, and we had a little picnic by the lake.

We came all the way to Fussen and walked a little in the old cemetary there, then decided we wanted to make one more visit to the castles. After a brief stop for apricot dumplings (strange!), we got back to the castles and took our little metal bridges up and down to the waterfall.

After a day of bicycling, something very relaxing sounded good, so we searched out the kristal therme in Schwangau. This was not really what we expected. I expected hotter, smaller pools. While they were warm, none were too hot. But there was certainly quite a variety. There was one pool so salty you couldn't sink even if you tried, one 'alpen' pool with water showers and areas of bubbles, a small pool with a fast moving circular current, relaxing water massage chairs, and a very hot sauna. The circular river was our favorite.

Our bicycle ride back took us through the center of old Schwangau, and the old fashion feel was certainly enhanced by the herd of cows wandering right through the center of town. (Though the herder was on a bicycle - a little less old fashioned).

The sunset over the lake and mountains was stunning, with lots of shades from reds to purples. We took a lot of pictures - and passed several other people who had obviously stopped their cars to take photos of the sunset. One family had driven their car clear off the road onto the bike path.



Sigh. All done with Bavaria. We had our final dinner there at Poseidon's again; we just had to have that eggplant and zuchinni one more time
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21. Board Game: München-Quiz [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Sigh. Our last real day in Germany. We boarded the train for Munich, and had an uneventful trip aside from helping out some other travelers from the US who weren't sure how to get to the airport. Apparently, according to them, we were very well prepared and organized. Sure that them fooled!

After checking into the hotel right at the airport we headed into Munich and visited the Deutsche museum. We enjoyed the area about ships, with a large sailing ship and an early U-Boat displayed with the side cut away to see inside and numerous demos, but began to tire of museuming while wandering through the aircraft and planes. We went outside and wandered around an old building and down to a river area with a lot of people looking touristy and past a park with a statue of Poseidon. We had mango chicken at Indian Mango for dinner, then dessert at the bakerie down the street (those German bakeries always are filled with such delicious stuff).

Then I decided we should head to Lain and look for another Ludwig castle, Schloos Nymphgarten, despite having no clear idea of how to get there. We got off the train in Lain and went North. At least we thought we were going North. We found an area with huge circular buildings and ponds with swans. Lisa thought this must be it, but it didn't look much like a garden to me, and th sign said it was a museum. So we kept going. We crossed under a busy street via a large tunnelway that had every inch painted with a wide array of art.

On the other side, we saw a sign for castle...point back where we had come from. We looped around a different way and indeed discovered that we HAD found Nymphgarten and not realized it - the gardens are behind the main building, and we'd arrived late enough that it was closed. Ah well.

We stopped at a market on the way back for some juice and had to pick up some Kinder Eggs. Then back to the airport. Our plans to figure out everything the night before were complicated by the United check-in booths not actually existing that night. Oops!

And the following day our trip was over. A very long flight with a few movies and a stopover, and we were back home, with a completely full camera, a big suitcase of games, and a lot of wonderful memories.
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