Monday, April 8, 2013

Minimize the Number of Times You Get Knocked Out of "The Zone" Daily

It’s been a long time. I shouldn’t have left, without a dope blog to…

I digress.

This latest blog post is about eliminating unnecessary dings, buzzes and vibrations that affect your productivity throughout your work day.

For those of you who are old enough to, think back to a time before you received email on your smartphone.

My guess is that you were more productive and more efficient in those days.

For too many of us, our workflow is interrupted dozens of times daily – perhaps even more than a hundred times, depending on your profession –by our intrusive smartphone alerts.

Some of those among us have the willpower to push through the ding, ignore that feeling of curiosity, deny the urge to stop what we’re doing, grab our smartphone, and look at what is “now.”

I’ll use myself as an example. My job requires that I write press releases often. I could be in “the zone,” fervently typing away, my mind clearly focused on the topic and task at hand.

Then, I hear the ding (a new email has arrived on the email client on my second computer monitor).

Or I hear the vibration (has someone @ mentioned me on Twitter?).

For many people I know, maybe the ding meant they received a Facebook notification. Some folks allow far too many smartphone apps to allow “push notifications,” meaning that they hear/feel that distracting ding/buzz every time their favorite baseball team scores a run, or every time their favorite cosmetic company puts a new nail polish on sale.

So many of us can’t resist that urge to see what caused the ding/buzz. We get knocked out of “the zone.” We screech to a halt. Productivity dies a swift, clean death.

Now, the press release that should have taken me 15 minutes to write is still a work in progress at 30 minutes.

After your curiosity is satisfied, can you go from zero to 60 and restore your productivity quickly? Or do you now decide to check on other things? What’s new on Twitter? Anything interesting on my Instagram feed? Let me check my favorite blog/message board before I return to this project…

Imagine how many more tasks each day you could accomplish if you did some much-needed “distraction maintenance?”

Giving yourself the ability to finish one more project/task each day soon means that you can finish five more things each week. The to-do list on your desk is suddenly shortening. Doesn’t it feel good to cross things off?

Using myself as an example once again: I love my subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine. But I could certainly do without the daily emails from Rolling Stone featuring online content (most of which I’ve already had the chance to read in the magazine itself).

So if I take a few minutes today to log into my Rolling Stone account and change my email settings (ex: Don’t send me daily/weekly news updates), then that’s one less distracting ding each day. That’s one less time I’m getting knocked out of “the zone.”

It means the press release I wrote today is little bit better – clearer, more concise, streamlined – than the one I wrote a week ago today.

Wow… imagine if I turned off a couple of these app notifications, reduced the frequency of LinkedIn emails I receive, unsubscribed from the Living Social emails that, without fail, NEVER seem to interest me even the least bit.

Now I’m really cruising. I’m not grabbing for my phone every three minutes. I’m staying focused on projects that matter. I’m a better employee. I sleep more soundly because that formerly overwhelming to-do list is no longer running through my mind while I lay in bed each night.

Before you leave work today, take 30 minutes to do some “distraction maintenance.” Or dedicate the first 30 minutes of your workday tomorrow.

Yes, you’ll surrender those 30 minutes.

 But you’ll be amazed at how quickly you earn those minutes back.

 PS: Just as soon as I finished writing this, but before I could post it, I got a Living Social email. It was for laser hair removal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

5 Tips for Collegiate Athletic Media Relations GAs...

How to Get Noticed by Senior Administrators

If you’re currently serving as a graduate assistant in a collegiate athletic media relations office, you’re on the right track toward a successful career in this industry (and you’re probably also hungry and sleep-deprived). But when you got that fateful call notifying you that you’d been selected for the position, that was the signal that you’re journey was just beginning. Landing the assistantship is never the goal. The goal is to leverage the opportunity that accompanies the assistantship into a great job upon graduation.

It’s really not much different than the training regimens carried out by the teams you work to promote: Hustle, hustle, hustle every day and focus on the process rather than the result.

An important part of the process should be finding ways to distinguish yourself in the eyes of those who run your department. Here are just a few tips to help you along the way.

1: Volunteer to assist at as many events as you can.
Working in collegiate athletic media relations often means showing up before most everyone and being among the last to leave. It can leave you yearning for a more exciting social life; but keep in mind—you’re logging all these hours with the ultimate goal of landing a good full-time gig upon graduation. The payoff will come.

Athletic departments, particularly at the “BCS level,” host several non-competition events each month. Donor receptions, corporate partner luncheons, golf tournaments and other events such as these present opportunities to assist and interact with senior-level athletic administrators. Showing ambition and providing competent and reliable assistance at these events can be a difference-maker for your future.

2: Identify a useful publication your department lacks, and produce it.
Every collegiate athletic media relations department produces publications (I use that term loosely, as fewer and fewer of these “publications” actually exist in printed form) geared toward the recruitment of prospective student-athletes. But does your athletic department have a similar publication to serve as a recruiting tool for talented coaches and/or athletic administrators?

In addition to touting your school’s traditions, championship history and facilities (which you already do for student-athletes), you could entice coaches/administrators with benefits information, apparel deals, conference and TV revenue data, etc. And best of all, who better to consult on such a project than your athletic department’s current senior administrators?

Sport-specific record books, almanacs for discontinued sports and fan’s guides are also publications you may have the expertise to generate. And if your desktop publishing software skills aren’t up to par, find a pet project along these lines and spend an hour or two each night working on your craft and making yourself a more desirable job candidate down the road.

3: Embrace new media and use it to enhance your department’s brand.
Age is a touchy subject in today’s workplace. But if you’re a GA, chances are you’ve got youth on your side. You may be more well versed in social media and digital technology than some of your superiors. Take advantage of that opportunity.

Offer to give “how to” presentations on tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Prezi to your athletic department’s full-time staff members.

Pitch ideas on ways to use social media outlets to engage your school’s fanbase. Is your ace pitcher a candidate for an award that uses online voting? Better yet, is your ace pitcher deserving of publicity that has yet to come his/her way? Use Prezi to promote him/her and make a captivating and attention-grabbing case for recognition.

Utilize Facebook and Twitter to put together a prize-packed scavenger hunt for fans. Use your imagination. Do something no other school has done yet. With social media, it’s possible.

4: Treat the secretaries and janitorial staff the same way you treat your athletic director.
Don’t be so narrow-minded in your ambition that you lose sight of how you treat people deserving of your respect. People talk.

Maybe that kid working on the stadium grounds crew who you breeze past everyday without acknowledging is an associate athletic director’s nephew or next-door neighbor. Take note of the senior level administrators who never give you the time of day—and promise yourself you won’t become that person.

5: Don’t get noticed for the wrong reasons.
To maintain the type of hours we keep in this profession, having a good sense of humor is a necessity. But there’s a time and place for jokes. You never know who may be walking through the office hallway while you’re standing on a desk teaching a fellow GA how to “dougie.”

I’ll offer a personal anecdote here—an example of how my foolishness turned into an extremely embarrassing experience (haven’t shared this story with many folks until now).

When I was a GA, I ate lunch every day at the athletic training table. And on Tuesdays during the fall, we hosted a football media day, after which media members had the option of eating free lunch at the training table as well. On that day each week, all media members and media relations staffers were required to sign in upon arrival at the dining hall.

Foolishly, I thought to myself, “I don’t understand why we need to sign in on Tuesdays. Surely nobody is actually looking at this log book each week.”

So… I started signing in as “Hulk Hogan” every Tuesday.

That lasted about a month or so, until I got a phone call from one of our associate athletic directors one afternoon asking me to come to his office. When I walked in and sat down, he held up one of the sign-in sheets and asked “Are you Hulk Hogan?”

Not my proudest moment. But, I admitted to it and apologized 10 times over.

The moral of the story is that senior level administrators have enough on their plate. The last thing they need is to spend valuable time trying to figure out why Hulkamania is runnin’ wild in the dining hall. So do them—and yourself—a favor, and spend your time figuring out ways to be a productive asset to your athletic department. Your future depends on it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

50 Twitter Tips for Division I Student-Athletes

It's been far too long since my last blog post. The one person who reads it hasn't complained (thanks, Dad), so I wasn't too compelled to remedy my lack of activity here.

But I recently read Darren Rovell's outstanding contribution to social media entitled "100 Twitter Rules To Live By," and I was supremely inspired.

Rovell's revelations led me to author my own list of Twitter rules. However, I decided to focus on a specific demographic. Thus, I present Tom Satkowiak's 50 Twitter Tips for NCAA Division I Student-Athletes:

1) Before you do anything else, read @Darrenrovell’s100 Twitter Rules to Live By.”

2) Your Twitter account is one of many mediums through which you can build your “personal brand.” When people decide to follow you, they are investing in your brand because they believe you can add value to their timeline. Don’t craft useless Tweets—you know the kind… they’re the ones you skip over every day while looking for something worthwhile.

After composing a Tweet, but before you hit send, ask yourself: “Would I be comfortable saying this in front of my parents, my grandmother, my pastor?” If the answer is no, discard it.

4) Turn off the “enable location data” option on your Twitter app. Do you really want everyone knowing where you are at all times?

5) Take pride in who/what you represent. In addition to representing your family, hometown and church, you also represent your university and your team.

The visual elements of your Twitter account (avatar, background) are how other Twitter users form a first impression of you. Put a shirt on. Don’t photograph yourself lying in bed—this isn’t soft-core porn.

7) Twitter hasn’t made the text message obsolete. Tweet things worthwhile that are appropriate to share publicly. Don’t Tweet about the party you’re hosting tonight. Instead, text the party details to friends you want to show up.

8) It’s perfectly fine to display your sense of humor on Twitter. Fans in particular love it when student-athletes show their personality. But don’t Tweet at the expense of others. Making fun of people or Tweeting a photo of the overweight family in Wal-Mart just makes you appear shallow and cold.

9) Don’t allow the impersonal nature of Twitter lull you into a false sense of security. It’s easy for a thought that materializes in your head while you’re lying in bed or sitting on the couch to suddenly find its way into a Tweet. But once you hit send, it’s there for the world to see.

10) Don’t use Twitter as an outlet to complain about how rough your life is. You are getting a college education, traveling to interesting places, getting free athletic shoes and apparel and more. Thousands of people would crawl over glass for the chance to enjoy the opportunities you have.

11) If a fan Tweets at you telling you how much they enjoy watching you play or how much their son/daughter looks up to you, ReTweet them and add a “Thx” at the start of the Tweet. You can make someone’s day just by granting them that simple, public acknowledgement.

12) Chances are there are some young kids who view you as a role model and follow you on Twitter. Do their parents a favor and keep your Tweets “family friendly.” Don’t type LMAO or LMFAO when LOL works just as well.

13) When you Tweet something clever or funny, try to leave around 15-20 characters free. This makes it easy for fans to ReTweet you without having to edit your original Tweet.

14) Don’t Tweet about how much you hate school. You chose to become a college student-athlete. If you hate school so much you should have joined the Marines.

15) Speaking of the Armed Forces, use Twitter as a way to engage your fans. Ask if any of your followers are in the military. Thank them for what they do, then ReTweet the ones who respond. The same goes for schoolteachers, police officers, firemen, etc.

16) Maintain a decent follower/following ratio. @JayBilas has the market cornered as far as Twitter snobs go. He makes up for it by having one of the most value-adding accounts in existence. You, my friend, are no @JayBilas (maybe one day…).

17) ReTweeting profanity is no different than using it in your own original Tweets. Don’t do it.

18) And while we’re on that topic, remember it’s not ok to Tweet about how that meal you just ate was “good AF” or how your finance professor is “on some boring ish.” Assuming your followers don’t know what that ish means is insulting.

19) Avoid replying to or ReTweeting Twitter users with vulgar names. Do you really want to be associated with @oddfuckingtaco, @BigPhatBooty or @herpesboy?

20) Don’t Tweet daily about how hard you’re working on the field/court/diamond/weight room/etc. If you were really working that hard, you wouldn’t be on Twitter to tell us all about it.

21) That’s an awfully nice Twitter background you have… looks like it was designed by a professional. Keep in mind that if the person who designed it for you for free typically charges for his/her design work, you may be receiving an improper benefit.

22) If you wouldn’t say something in a media interview, don’t Tweet it. You’re being na├»ve if you think the media isn’t keeping an eye on your Twitter feed (and locking your account is not a failsafe way of ensuring only your friends are following you).

23) Don’t Twitpic a photo of someone who doesn’t know they’re being photographed. You’d be angry if someone did that to you.

24) Look over your recent Tweets. Chances are you could delete one out of every 10 Tweets and not feel as though anything worthwhile was being lost. That said, don’t Tweet the worthless stuff to begin with. Numerous people who would be considered “social media experts” often compose a Tweet, read it over, think about it and then decide to discard it.

25) Follow at least one news feed that will keep you informed on major current events (such as @CNNbrk or @CBSNews).

26) Don’t allow yourself to be photographed while holding a drink. If you’re posing for a photo, put your drink behind your back or on a counter out of the frame. Even if you’re only drinking water.

27) Baby mama drama? Don’t air your dirty laundry on Twitter.

28) Don't Tweet after a tough loss. You pour your heart and soul into training to become a champion, and losses are emotionally draining. Sleep on it. Your followers will still be there tomorrow.

29) Enjoying a big win? Take 30 seconds to Tweet a "Thank You" to the fans who were there to cheer you to victory.

30) Don't allow a hater with 20 followers to bait you into a “Twitter beef.” Ignore them and remember their actions are usually fueled by jealousy.

31) If you don’t like something a media member wrote about you, your coach or your teammate, ignore it. Engaging in a public Twitter argument is a battle you won’t win. You’ll only end up looking foolish (you’ll also likely boost the other person’s follower count).

32) It’s the morning of a big game/match, you feel like you have the flu and it looks like you won’t be playing tonight. Don’t announce that on Twitter. If you compete in a revenue sport, Tweeting something like that will have ripples that reach all the way to the Las Vegas sports books.

33) Next time you’re skimming the Internet while sitting on the toilet, do yourself a favor and do a Google search for “Marvin Austin” and “Twitter.” Apply the resulting lessons learned to your own personal Twitter usage
(a biased and explicit, yet interesting, account HERE).

34) You know that 10-second period after you type a Tweet during which you re-read it and ask yourself if you really ought to hit “send?” Take two more seconds to ask yourself, “Is this going to give my SID an ulcer?”

35) Consider polarizing topics off limits on Twitter. Avoid commenting on sexual orientation, race and religions you don’t understand.

36) Know the type of Tweets that are boring and painfully unoriginal. They include such gems as A) Just got a great workout in; B) I’m up early, finna get this money; C) Wattup Twitter??

37) Don’t Tweet about how much you respect your mamma and grandmamma if, 10 minutes later, you’re going to Tweet about the “juicy cakes” on the girl walking past you on campus. Twenty years ago, those “juicy cakes” belonged to your mamma. Do you see the irony?

38) Many Twitter users are only religious when they wake up. Do you Tweet thanks to God every morning? If the other 90 percent of your Tweets reflect a different attitude or lifestyle, people notice. So does Jesus—he’s on Twitter (but not yet verified).

39) There are many other teams and student-athletes at your school. Take the time to give them a shout-out on Twitter when they do big things. Ultimately, you’re all on the same team.

40) Smile in your avatar or background picture!

41) People want their experience on Twitter to be fun. Make a real effort to Tweet far more positive content than negative.

42) What happens in the locker room stays there. Things that are said in private team settings should never find their way onto Twitter.

43) Don’t Tweet during class. That’s like disrespecting someone (in this case, your professor) behind their back. And always be mindful that your professors may be monitoring your Twitter account.

44) One of your Twitter followers may be in a position to hire (or draft) you someday. Evaluate your Tweets from time to time and ask yourself, “Would I want to hire this person?”

45) If you feel like the Twitter guidelines your coaching staff and/or athletic administrators expect you to comply with prevent you from “keeping it real,” then that should probably be your cue to re-evaluate your definition of “keeping it real.” Your team support staff has your long-term best interest in mind.

46) Your athletic compliance office is monitoring your Twitter account. And the NCAA has acknowledged that it monitors student-athlete activity on Twitter as well. Even if you don’t compete in a major conference or a revenue sport, don’t be fooled into believing nobody is paying attention.

47) Share Twitpics when your team takes part in community outreach projects. But it’s important to remember that all students entering ninth grade and older are considered prospective student-athletes (PSAs), and should not appear in any Twitpic (for men’s basketball, PSAs are all students entering seventh grade and older).

48) It’s ok to Tweet once about what a great dinner you had at Red Lobster. But multiple mentions of the same business could be considered an endorsement, which is impermissible according to NCAA legislation.

49) Twitter can be a tattle-tale. For instance, you told your coach you missed a team meeting because your phone’s battery was dead and you didn’t get the call/text about the meeting. But if your Twitter timeline shows a Tweet from a mobile app during that time, you’re busted.

50) Don’t let these rules prevent you from enjoying your Twitter experience. It’s perfectly acceptable to show your personality and have fun on Twitter—it’s encouraged. But like anything else, the key is to enjoy it responsibly.

As always, I welcome comments and feedback.
Find me on Twitter @TomSatkowiak.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Europe 2010 - Days 12-13

NOTE: It’s about 9:45 p.m. in Innsbruck, Austria, as I write this. Even with the window open and a breeze flowing in, our hotel room is still quite hot. So I may skimp on the historical notes and hyperlinks pertaining to places we visited on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wednesday, June 30 - Day 12

Wednesday morning we checked out of Gutshof zum Schluxen quite early and made the approximately 45-minute drive to the only one of King Ludwig’s three castles in which he actually lived: Linderhof. Ludwig lived in Linderhof for seven years, but his time spent there was that of a hermit. The only other people on the grounds most of the time were his servants, and he ate dinner every day alone—even having a special dining room table installed that allowed the servants to set the table from the floor below and then crank the table up through the floor so that he could dine all alone without seeing or talking to anyone.

Another odd aspect to Linderhof is the “Venus Grotto.” Ludwig had a portion of the grounds a few hundred yards away from the castle excavated, and in the resulting pit, he had a fake concrete cave constructed. It was made to look like a real cave. It even has a working waterfall and a lake inside. His inspiration behind this place was (surprise, surprise) another one of Richard Wagner’s operas.

Of all Ludwig’s castles, the grounds at Linderhof were the most magnificent. We got a lot of great photos there. He also had a Moorish hut built on the grounds. He used it for drinking tea and smoking opium.

When we left Linderhof, we also said goodbye to Germany and drove to Innsbruck, Austria (the capital of the Alps). The drive was less than two hours, much of it on the highway (my top speed during this trip was about 148 km per hour, but many cars were going MUCH faster than that).

Upon arriving in Salzburg, we checked into Hotel Mozart. Had I known that we wouldn’t need our rental car at all during our time here, I would have tried to turn it in a day early rather than wait until Thursday.

One reason we didn’t need the car was because we purchased two “Innsbruck Cards.” For a total cost of 68 Euros, the cards granted us admission to all of the city’s main attractions as well as complimentary access to all buses and the cable car that runs up the mountain that hulks over the north side of the city.

We had dinner outdoors in the middle of the old town at a place called Wiener Wald. It’s worth noting that in German-speaking countries, Ws are pronounced as Vs. Veal is one of my favorite meats, so of course I had the wiener schnitzel. It was excellent. There aren’t a whole lot of places left back home where you can get good veal.

We actually turned in early Wednesday. We got back to the hotel before 8 p.m. and went right to bed.

Thursday, July 1 – Day 13

On Thursday, we got the full value out of our Innsbruck Cards.

After breakfast at Hotel Mozart, we walked to the Hofburg, which is where the royal Tyrolean family lived for centuries. We went from there straight to the Golden Dachl (Golden Roof) Museum. The Golden Dachl was the domain of Emperor Maximilian. That museum wasn’t all that impressive, but the next one was.

Our favorite sight in Innsbruck was the Hofkirche. It was a “court church” built by Emperor Maximilian. The beautiful sanctuary houses his empty tomb—apparently the most impressive tomb in all of Europe—and more than a dozen lifesize bronze statues of his relatives and ancestors (and some people he “sort of” considered to be his ancestors, like King Richard of England).

From there, we had a quick lunch at a small cafe. Brooke got a sandwich, but I opted for apple strudel with ice cream and whipped cream. You’ve got to have some local strudel, right?

Then we went to the world headquarters of Swarovski Crystal, about a 20-minute shuttle ride outside of Innsbruck. The company has a mind-blowing museum of sorts there called Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal World). It’s a subterranean exhibit of crystallized sights and artwork. It houses both the largest and smallest hand-cut crystals in the world. The Crystal Dome and Crystal Forest were a couple of the cooler exhibits. It was actually a pretty amazing place.

Of course, what awaits at the end? Yup, a giant Swarovski store. I had already bought a pair of black crystal cuff links last week in Switzerland, so I was done with Swarovski. Brooke apparently had not finished up in Switzerland...

After the shuttle back to Innsbruck city center, we bused to the hotel, grabbed the car and then dropped it off at the airport. Following an easy bus ride back into the old town, we had another great dinner (Austrian ravioli for Brooke, more wiener schnitzel for me).

As we were walking back to the hotel to call it a night, we were lucky to see a procession of a traditional Tyrolean folk band, which was making its way toward the Golden Dachl for a free public concert featuring traditional singing and dancing.

Our plan now is to catch the 7:54 a.m. train to Zurich, where we’ll finish up our trip before flying out of the Zurich airport Saturday morning. It will be a long day, as we take off at 9:50 a.m. (3:50 a.m. ET). This may be my last vacation blog entry. I hope everyone who followed along enjoyed it. If you ever make the (great) decision to travel to any of the places we’ve been, I’d be glad to provide some tips and suggestions.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tuesday, June 29 - Day 11

Today was Bavaria day for us here along the Germany-Austria border. The majority of our day was near Fussen, Germany, where we toured two of “The King’s Castles.”

“The King,” being referenced is (Mad) King Ludwig II. You ask, of what was he the king? He was the King of Bavaria, which was its own kingdom centuries ago, similar to Prussia.

Ludwig grew up in his father’s castle, Hohenschwangau (pronounced: HO-in-SCHVON-gow). That castle, beautifully decorated in classic romantic themes, was quite impressive, and the tour through it was very interesting.

Ludwig—whose brother, Otto, was declared insane at the age of 24 and was sent to live in a castle in Munich—became King of Bavaria in his mid-20s. He loved Hohenschwangau, but he had ambitions of building his own fantasy castle.

He began construction of Neuschwanstein (pronounced: NOISH-von-stine) and watched its progress carefully from his quarters in Hohenschwangau. The telescope he used to view the construction is still there, pointed out the same window (by the way, now is good time to mention that photography and filming is prohibited inside both castles).

Ludwig oversaw Neuschwanstein’s construction for 17 years. Well before its completion, he was declared mentally unfit to rule at the age of 40 in 1886. He was found dead in a lake in Munich less than a week later. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.

Ludwig’s quarters in his dream castle were completed, but he only lived in the structure for 172 days. It’s pretty sad, really. Brooke and I were most impressed with his throne room. The mosaic floor was made of more than 1 million pieces of tile. The walls and ceiling must have taken thousands of hours to paint. The 96-candle chandelier was made of gilded brass and weighed more than 2000 pounds. But the room has never contained an actual throne on the lofted structure where it was designed to rest. The room was one of many that were never totally finished.

The famous view of Neuschwanstein from St. Mary’s Bridge was worth the short and easy hike.

After leaving the castles, we each had a bratwurst for lunch before driving just a few minutes north to Tegelberg, Germany. There, we rode a luge down fun and twisty course. My goal was to never use my brake the entire time; mission accomplished. I took a video with my flipcam for the entire ride. I’ll post it on my YouTube page when I get the chance.

In 1328, the Holy Roman Emperor was traveling through Bavaria and he established a monastery in the village of Ettal, Germany. Many monks still live there, and the monastery sanctuary is incredibly beautiful. When we walked in, there was a service going on and all the monks were singing (that stereotypical monk-like chanting). We sat in the back pew for a while and just looked around at all the Baroque sculpture and art work. It was tremendously impressive.

Next we drove to Oberammagau, Germany. That is the Bavarian city that hosts the world famous “Passion Play” every 10 years in the summer. Passion 2010 is going on now. The city (tiny village, really) is flooded with Christian tourists from all over the world who come to watch the huge production in which almost every resident in the city take part.

We weren’t that impressed with Oberammagau.

We had dinner at the restaurant below the Aldstadt Hotel in Fussen. Brooke had a vegetarian dish that looked like some kind of macaroni and cheese. I had venison and dumplings. I ordered lemonade to drink and was given what tasted like Sprite or 7-up. What’s up with that?

Tomorrow we plan to start the day with a tour of Linderhof. It’s the one castle that King Ludwig did live to see completed. It features fabulous gardens and the interior is decorated in the theme of Richard romantic Wagner’s operas (Ludwig and Wagner were very close friends).

From there, it’s on to Innsbruck, where we drop off our tiny Mercedes-Benz rental car (which I think I mistakenly identified as a VW in an earlier blog; sorry, I’m not a car guy).


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Monday, June 28 - Day 10

Best day ever. The day of days. No way I can do it justice without writing volumes.

Funny then, that it started out somber--because we had to say goodbye to Hotel Cortisen in Saint Wolfgang. Since we had to meet our paragliding pilots at 9 a.m. about an hour away from Saint Wolfgang in Obertraun, the alarm came early, we ate a quick breakfast and were on the road by 8 a.m.

We found out that the Cortisen is managed by a company called Epoque Hotels that has 130 properties in 70 countries worldwide (only about six are in America--all in either New York, Los Angeles or Miami). There is a book that highlights all of their properties, and we saw so many amazing places we'd love to go someday. One of my favorites was in Namibia, where you could watch zebras and gazelles roam from the back sundeck of the hotel.

I won't have enough vacations in my life to visit half the amazing properties they have.

Back to our day. We arrived at the cable car lift at the base of a mountain called Dachstein and met our paragliding pilots. Mikhael, a native of Austria, was Brooke's pilot. Jorg (pronounced: YORG), a German industrial engineer who gave up his profession 11 years ago due to his addiction to paragliding, was my pilot. Jorg has worked the past few years in South Africa but came to Austria this summer to be partners with Mikhael and to escape the hectic festivities surrounding the World Cup. Both of the guys were cool as hell, but it was also clear that they were experts and took the safety part of their job seriously.

I opted to wear an HD helmet cam to film the duration of my flight. I can't wait to get the footage. I want to see it so badly. I took one short video in-flight, about a minute or two after takeoff, but it really doesn't do justice to the whole experience.

Takeoff, by the way, was pretty awesome. The mountain peak just to the left of us had the Dachstein glacier on it. It was totally covered with ice. But at about the same elevation (2,150 meters), our takeoff point on the Grid Krippenstein summit plateau actually had a bit of a grassy field with some bushy vegetation. Jorg and I did a mock run-through of what we were going to do on takeoff, then we went for it.

He told me what he wanted my path to be, then he just yelled, "Run! Run! Run!" I ran as hard as I could--there was a lot of drag once the chute caught air, and he was only about a foot and a half behind me, clipped onto my harness with carabineers. After about 15 yards, we lifted up, then we touched down again for about three or four steps after sailing about 10 yards, then we were off the cliff for good.

The thermal updrafts running up the mountains immediately caught our chute and sent us upward. There is no way I can describe the next 30-40 minutes. Jorg said over and over again that there was no way the conditions could have been any better, and he had to be telling the truth. The views were amazing.

There was one point early on when Jorg asked if I was comfortable with doing some in-air maneuvers. I said sure and he swung the chutes quickly from side to side. At one point I thought we might flip.

Then as we were over the landing field, he said that I seemed very comfortable and asked if I wanted to do some spirals. He said it pulls a lot of "G's" and makes us descend very fast.

You know my response.

Suddenly we were spiraling super fast straight down. It probably only lasted for about 6-7 seconds, but it was awesome.

After we landed, Brooke said, "When I saw what you were doing. I thought I was going to throw up."

Mikhael asked her if she wanted to do what Jorg and I had just done, but she declined. She did, however, really enjoy the experience and said she would do it again. I HAVE to do it again.

After saying goodbye to Mikhael and Jorg, we started the one-hour drive to Berchtesgaden. Ever since I first saw the "Band of Brothers" mini-series, which I still believe is the finest thing ever put on film, I've wanted to visit the Eagle's Nest.

More than the fact it was the Third Reich's 50th birthday present to Hitler, the main draw for me was the fact that Major Dick Winters had once been there (while active with Easy Company in the 101st Airborne). He is the epitome of a bad-ass. I've read his autobiography as well as books written by at least four other men who served under him in Europe during World War II. Everyone who went to battle with that man speaks of him with such esteem that you just have to respect him. He was with the 101st when it captured the Eagle's Nest--officially known as the Kehlsteinhaus.

One thing I didn't know before visiting the Obersalzberg region was the fact that the Third Reich took over the whole area in the 1930s. The Nazis removed families who had for centuries called the place home. Obersalzberg became the party's second main base of operations (behind Berlin).

Really, the most impressive parts of the Kehlsteinhaus structure itself are the road leading up to it and the solid brass elevator that takes you from inside the mountain to the building. Somewhere along the way, someone decided to make the Kehlsteinhaus--which is a small building to begin with--a touristy restaurant. A full-service restaurant kitchen takes up a lot of space, so much so that there really isn't much left to tour. There is just the main circular tea room, with its large windows and huge fireplace. There are photos of Hitler, foreign diplomatic guests and high-ranking members of the Nazi Party dining in that room.

There's also a photo of Eisenhower smoking a cigarette in that room with a big grin on his face after the capture of Berchtesgaden. I asked one of the employees which window exactly the photo was taken near, and I stood in the same place with the same pose and had Brooke take my picture.

Really, the coolest part of the whole compound was the audio tour of the Nazi Documentation Center. It starts in a two-level building and leads underground into the four miles of bunker tunnels that Jewish and Polish slaves were forced to build all over the mountain.

On Google Earth, you can see where hikers have explored the surrounding forests and mountains and have found bunker exits and old doors. It would be awesome to hike around that area sometime.

I couldn't help but wonder, as I walked through the tunnels and looked at the exhibits in the Documentation Center, what do the German tourists think of all this? Until the late 1990s, it was kind of taboo for Germans to come to this area or any other Nazi-related sites as vacations. But in the past decade, it's become a huge attraction for Germans. There were tons of German vacationers visiting along with us today.

If I was a German, I would be thinking to myself, "How did almost our entire great nation follow this psycho and align itself with Nazi beliefs?"

It's remarkable to think that Hitler could gain such influence--in the past, now, ever. It's a pretty sad commentary on mankind.

So after leaving our second incredible experience of the day, we started the three-hour drive to Pinswang, Germany (during which we crossed the Germany-Austria border numerous times). Again, the drive offered gorgeous scenery.

Around 9 p.m., we arrived here at Gutshof zum Schluxen in Unterpinswang. We'll be here for two nights. Tomorrow we'll visit King Ludwig's Castles, one of which was the inspiration for the famous Disney World Castle.

Hike or bike. That's our initial plan on how we'll get to the castles tomorrow morning. If the bikes look like ass-busters, we'll be hoofing it.

That's all for now.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Europe 2010 - Day 9

Day 9 - Sunday, June 27

Sunday was great. The breakfast spread at the Cortisen was the most impressive we've seen yet. I was especially impressed with the dozen or so varieties of fresh jellies that were available. Brooke, on the other hand, had one of the girls show her how to operate the espresso machine. Something tells me our kitchen is going to have one of those before long.

After breakfast, I did some research on paragliding, as I've seen that it is a possiblity here in the Salzkammergut region. That research included about four trips down to the reception area to get clarification on how to use the phone here in Europe.

While I was doing that, Brooke was sunbathing in a lounge chair at the edge of the lake on the hotel's sundeck. I went out and joined her for a few minutes once I had a paragliding trip booked for Monday morning (we'll run off a cliff in Obertraun, Austria, before making our way to Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany).

Then we strolled through the village, checking out the various shops. There have been salt mines in this area for centuries, and we found one store that had a variety of local salt (salz) products. They had cooking salts, bathing salts, lotions, everything you can think of all made with pure local mineral-laden local salt.

For lunch, we stopped at a cafe just a few doors up the street from the Cortisen. I really wanted to try a ham and (Swiss) cheese omelette. So I did. Brooke and I also split a pizza with cheese, ham, tomatoes and mushrooms. The waitress was under the impression that the omelette was my entree--not my appetizer--and that Brooke was having the pizza all to herself. So as we paid the bill, Brooke felt compelled to explain to the waitress that I helped with the pizza.

We went back to our room and threw on our bathing suits before making our way to a riverfront dock area that rented electric motor boats and paddleboats (you know, the ones you pedal like a bike) by the hour. We took a paddleboat out to the middle of the lake and jumped in the water. It was freezing for the first few minutes--Brooke couldn't catch her breath at first--but then you got used to it. I was just swimming around in the middle of the lake (Wolfgangsee) with a 360-degree panorama of beautiful mountains surrounding me. It was one of those moments where you stop and say to yourself, "I can't believe I'm doing this right now. I can't believe I'm in a lake in Austria, surrounded by all of this."

I'll remember that lake experience for the rest of my life.

We decided to relax a little after returning the boat. We had dinner reservations at the Cortisen's restaurant for 8 p.m., so we showered up and changed into some nicer attire before heading down to eat.

It was one of those dinners where they bring you a couple "greetings from the kitchen," and they keep swapping out your silverware based on what you order and you have to try to remember the proper dining etiquette of when to use which fork and knife. I ordered salmon with an orange glaze and Brooke had trout from the lake. This meal probably topped all that we've had during vacation so far.

Sadly, we both realize that when we check out tomorrow morning, our last few days of vacation will probably fail to match the time we've had here in Saint Wolfgang. I can promise we will be back here again.

That brings up a point about the travelers you see here. In Switzerland, you see many, many Chinese, Japanese and Indian tourists (Indians go there to escape their own monsoon season). But of course, you also notice a decent amount of American travelers as well. Here in Saint Wolfgang, most everyone is European. It is a popular German resort town--great skiing in the winter. I was signing the book at Saint Wolfgang Parish Church this afternoon as we were taking a more in-depth walk through the place, and I had to turn back almost 15-20 pages to mid-June to find the last time someone had scrawled a message in English. I guess Saint Wolfgang is a place that is left out of most popular American travel and guide books (I found back it in May while scanning lakefront properties using Google Earth).

Well, I need to figure out where we have to drive to tomorrow morning for our paragliding adventure. And from there it's on to a few days in Germany where we'll visit the "King's Castles."