Author Archives: Michael Watkins

Munich, Germany

At Munich, we stayed at our third AirBnB. This time, we stayed on the third floor of IMG_8468doctor’s house. It was lovely. An issue at every place was that none of the places had air conditioning. Most of the days we were in Germany the weather was in the 80s during the day. This equaled going to bed hot most nights. They didn’t even have fans available for us.

After getting settled into the condo, we headed to Hofbrau for dinner and a German beer. The restaurant just seemed a lot more touristy than I expected. I was hoping for a more authentic German brewery experience. The beer was good. A lot of people asked if they served the beer hot: no! 

In Munich we also decided to use the public DSCN3745transportation system. We had so many problems with traffic in Berlin and trying to find places to park we decided to try something different. I must say, using the public transportation system was a lot better experience. The bus stop and train stop were all within walking distance to our Airbnb.

On our second day, we went to a second concentration camp, which was Dachau. Dachau was the first camp in Germany. I found the tour of Dachua better than Sachsenhausen. Dachau also seemed to be a bit more DSCN3759personal to experience. The photograph above is the crematory at Dachua.

After the camp, we returned to Munich. We went to the Munich Residence. This was where several rulers resided in the past. The house was was huge. This was our first shot at walking inside of a very wealthy residence. The had a lot of fine jewelry on display. One room was dedicated to Christian artifacts as well. They had a section of the crown from the Passion of Christ. The photograph on the right is Aaron and I in the banquet hall of the Munich Residence.

After touring the residence, we went to Weihenstephan DSCN3791Brewery. This brewery is the world oldest brewery, which began in year 1040. I have actually had several of the their beers here int he U.S. I was looking forward to having a fresh one at the brewery. There was  a beer garden in the back of the brewery. This was the experience I was waiting for! It was an authentic beer garden. I actually think we were the only tourist there. It sat on the top of a mountain. The views while eating were amazing. The brewery was about 40 minutes away from Munich.DSCN3795

On our last day in Munich, we went to the German Museum. This museum was amazing. I think it was the largest museum any of us have been to. It covered a lot of science. There were six floors. We were worn out afterward! After the museum, we went to a German toy store, Obletter. Maria had her eye on a special German made toy for her nephews. We also bought packages of Haribo DSC02018gummies for 99 cents! They are so cheap because they are made in Germany. My mom also sent us on a mission to pick her up a pair of Birkenstocks, which are also made in Germany. We found some for about $83 USD. Mom was excited. I guess they go for quite a bit more in the states.

After visiting Obletter, we went to the English Garden, which reminded me of Central Park. There was a canal that ran through the edge of the park. There was a section where the water broke and caused a wave. The locals surfed in the area of the wave. The photograph below is the surfers lined up waiting for their turn to hit the water.IMG_8813

After watching the surfers, we went to the Chinese Beer Garden in the park. This was also a nice experience. No tourist, just hanging with the locals.

All of the beer gardens operated the same. You would get a tray and grab your food through a serving line. Then you would go and get your drink. There would be a cashier located at the exit, toward the tables. The setup was similar to a cafeteria. All of the food we had in Germany was very good. They do some things quite better than us. Aaron couldn’t get over their chocolate milk, Maria loved the yogurt, and Susan loved the DSCN3835sauerkraut.

On the following morning, we left Munich to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle was what Walt Disney based the sleeping beauty castle on. The castle was built for King Ludwing’s son. The castle was very impressive. First we visited the King’s castle, which sat on an adjacent hill. This is the photograph on the left. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs inside the castle. The family turned the castle over to the state to allow it to be viewed by the public. There were numerous gifts that the King received displayed in the castle. We opted to hike to DSCN3847the top of both castles. The walk to the first castle was not difficult. However, the hike to Neuschwanstein Castle left everyone a bit winded. We did take the bus to the bottom. Maria’s bridge was closed, which is suppose to give the best view of the Neuschwanstein Castle.

After the visit to the castles, we drove to Salzburg, Austria. We all expected to go through some form of border police and had our passports ready to hand over. It was hard to tell when we even crossed the border. There were no signs, no police, just notification on our GPS of the traffic law variances.

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Salzburg, Austria

While I was planning our trip to Germany, Susan asked to visit the filming location for theDSCN3888 Sound of Music. Since I have never watched the movie, I was less than thrilled to go to Austria to see where a musical was filmed. However, the women (Maria and Susan) won. So we ended our German Trip with a short trek across the border to Austria.

We stayed at a farmhouse that doubled as a bed and breakfast. The location was great. Right across the street from the bus stop. However, sometimes the smell was overpowering.

We only had one full day in Austria. We started the day with a Sound of Music bike tour. The tour was about 10 miles long. During the tour, we saw quite a few sites of the City as well as numerous filming locations for the movie. We really enjoyed the tour. Even DSCN3891though I didn’t care about the movie, the tour guide provided us a lot of information about the city itself that I appreciated. Our tour guide was actually from California! We saw Europe’s oldest restaurant (since year 804) as well as St. Peter’s Abby, which has been around since 696. The church is in the photograph to the left.

After the bike tour, we went to the house Mozart was born in. The house has been converted into a museum. They had several of Mozart’s instruments on display. We were not allowed to take photographs inside the DSCN3938residence.

We ended the night at a dinner and concert at a fortress. The fortress sat on top of a mountain, overlooking downtown. The concert was very good. Several violinist, a cello player, and a pianist performed for about an hour and a half. The photograph below is of the concert. I think Austria ended up being everyone’s favorite city. We wanted to see so much more, but our IMG_9187vacation was coming to an end. Hopefully, we can return another day. It just goes to show the importance of listening to the wife!

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Berlin, Germany

The night of the Ironman, we packed out bags, broke down the bike, and prepared to leave for Berlin.

DSCN3452On the following morning, we drove about six hours from Frankfurt to Berlin. Well, Maria drove as my legs were a bit sore from the day before. We reserved another Airbnb apartment in Berlin. This place was not quite as close to the town center, so we had to drive everywhere while in Berlin. Berlin was so much more busier than Frankfurt. More traffic, more people, more patience! Parking was such a pain. We should have taken public transportation even though we had a car.

After checking into our condo, we went to theDSCN3465 Topography of Terror. This was where we first saw the remnants of the Berlin Wall. After the Topography of Terror, we visited Checkpoint Charlie. We were surprised to see the checkpoint was in the middle of a road that was still active. We found a street side food stand and decided to grab a currywurst. Berlin is known for their currywust and it did not disappoint. After eating, we drove to the house my mom and her family lived in almost 60 years ago. The apartment still stands, but was recently remodeled. We also located the former Army hospital DSCN3499that my mom was born at. I took several videos to share with my mom’s family.

On our second day in Berlin, we went to the TV Tower to grab of 360 degree view of the city. The tower was huge! It reminded us a lot of the CN Tower in Toronto. After the tower, we went to the the Berlin Wall Memorial. At this memorial, we noticed a brick line that still remains on the ground where the wall once
stood. Almost like an outline of where the wall once stood. After the memorial, we headed to museum island. Museum island was beautiful. DSCN3520There were five museums on the island. We only had time to visit two of the five museums, the Pergamon and Nues Museums. Both museums had items that were older than anything we have ever seen. Some of items dated back to before Christ! After the two museums, we were worn out from all of the walking and called it a night.

On our third day, we went to our first DSCN3598concentration camp, Sachsenhausen. The camp was a sobering reminder of Germany’s past. It was sad seeing the experience some endured. After the camp, we went to the Holocaust Memorial, which was a series of graves in line with one another. We then walked to the Bradenburg Gate. It was difficult to get to the gate as much of the area was closed off for a soccer game. After checking out the Bradenburg, we headed to the Reichstag, which is the Capitol building for Germany. We were truly amazed by all of the old buildings around the city. The photograph to DSCN3672the right was just a random building we walked by on our way to the car.

The following morning we left Berlin and headed to Munich, which I will discuss in another blog. Click on any of the photographs to view all of the photographs from Berlin.

Frankfurt, Germany

For our 2016 family vacation we visited Germany and Austria. Since there is a lot of places we visited, I will break this blog into cities that we visited. For the vacation, our friend Maria joined us. She loves traveling Europe and offered to tag along while helping to pay some of the expenses.

Our first stop was Frankfurt. We arrived early in the morning. After getting our rental car (a DSCN3378minivan with a Diesel engine) we arrived at our first Airbnb stay, which was an apartment located on the Main River. Our visit to Frankfurt was centered around me doing the Ironman race, which I will discuss in a separate blog. On our first day, we just settled into our condo and tried to get groceries. By far, one of the hardest things we had to overcome (language wise) was grocery shopping. No joke, we bought three cases of water before we got it right. We kept buying sparkling water inside of still water.

On our second day, I started the day with a practice swim at the Ironman swim start. DSC00750The water was much warmer than I expected. After the swim, I checked into the Ironman race. After I got checked into the race, we went to Heidelberg Castle. The castle was about an hour away from Frankfurt. As our first castle, we were mesmerized. It seemed everywhere we went, crews were setting up for a special event, just like they were at the castle. We weren’t able to go into the castle, so we explored the grounds.

After Heidelberg, we were suppose to visit another castle. When I planned the visit, the two castles were suppose to be close in driving distance, but once there, they were very far so we just called it a night and drove home.IMG_0228

The next day we walked to the Frankfurt Zoo. The zoo was in the center in the center and was a bit smaller than zoos we have visited in the past. After the Zoo, went to the ironman briefing, which was located at the finish line for the race.

On our fourth day, we took a boat tour of the Main River. I planned this because I didn’t DSCN3283want to do too much walking on the day before the race. The boat cruise was nice, but the weather was not cooperating. It drizzled the first half of the boat ride. After the boat ride, everyone but me went to the Werthiem Castle, which is the one we missed on the third day. While everyone else was at the castle, I took a shuttle to check my bike into where the Ironman race started. Susan and Aaron loved the castle. The castle was just ruins for DSCN3352the most part.

The fifth day was showtime for Mike. Mike did Ironman Frankfurt. During the ironman, everyone else cheered for all of the athletes at the swim and the run. The run course passed by our apartment eight times! After the Ironman, we packed up everything to depart for Berlin.

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Ironman Frankfurt

As most of you can remember, I completed Ironman Florida in 2014. After the raceThe swim was cancelled for that race. Ever since then, I have wanted to take another stab at doing a full distance triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run). I never felt like a completed a full Ironman without doing the swim.

During Summer of 2015, I decided I wanted to experience a triathlon in Germany. Germans are known for being very supportive of triathlons. I first tried to register for Challenge Roth, which is the largest long distance triathlon in the world. After not getting into that race, I registered for Ironman Frankfurt. IMG_0243Looking back, I am glad things worked out the way they did. Challenge Roth was a hotter race (I do better in cold weather) and training was already difficult enough since I had to do my long bike rides and runs in May and June in the humid Florida weather. There were times I couldn’t even complete my training runs in Florida.


The swim was held in an old rock quarry. The water was in the mid 70s, which made the race wetsuit legal for the amateur athletes but not professionals. I expected the water to be much 23_m-100743026-digital_highres-1316_044492-4907741colder than it was. The swim was 3800 meters. After swimming a 1500 meter loop, there was a short beach run, then a  2300 meter loop.

I felt pretty good the entire swim. It was uneventful. My watch measured the course at 4200 meters, but maybe I did a little drifting out of the lane. I remember thinking several times “where is the finish?” In training, I never swam that long of a block non-stop. I completed the swim in 1:15.29. This was in the neighborhood of what I expected my time to be.


39_m-100743026-digital_highres-1316_068196-4907757The bike course was amazing. We left the rock quarry (which was south of Frankfurt), headed
through Frankfurt, then went through several villages north of Frankfurt. Each village had its own personality. Many people would come out and make a day our of cheering us on. Unlike Ironman Florida, Ironman Frankfurt had several decent size hills. I found that I enjoyed the hills as it broke up the monotony of being on a bike for almost five hours. It started raining hard toward the end of the bike ride. My goal was to complete the bike course in under six hours. I finished in 5:58.48!


IMG_0256The bike portion of the race is what I was most nervous about. I was scared to death of having a mechanical issue and not be able to complete the race. I had a huge sigh of relief heading into transition two. I had a little more than seven hours to make it to the finish line. For some reasons Ironman races in Germany end after 15 hours (they are 17 hours in the U.S.). The run course was a four loop course that was along the Main River. There were tons of people everywhere cheering us on! I passed by the condo we stayed at eight times. Several times I saw people out having a beer and envied them. Maria, Susan, and Aaron were able to see me quite a bit. My goal for the run was 4:30. I knew this was aggressive, but isn’t that what goals are for?

I was on pace for my goal until about mile 18. Then the wheels fell off….lol. At that point, I went45_m-100743026-digital_highres-1316_078190-4907763 to a run/walk strategy. I would jog to each aid station, which were about a mile apart. Then I would walk through each of the aid stations. To make matters worse, my watch died around mile 22. I finished the marathon in 5:01.24. This gave me a total time of 12:26.18. Not too far off from my goal of 12 hours.

This by far was the most amazing triathlon I have done. The finish area was huge. In fact, I never was able to find Susan and Aaron after the race. I ended up riding my bike back to the condo and calling them from my iPad (Susan had my phone) to let them know I was okay. I think this will be my last iron distance triathlon. I still want to do some half ironmans or shorter distance races. It just takes so much time to train for the longer distances.

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Buffalo, New York

Our trip to Canada, started and ended in Buffalo. Flying into Buffalo was much cheaper than IMG_5518other options. We had to depart of our condo in Niagara Falls about eight hours before our plane departed Buffalo. We visited Canalside in Buffalo. While at Canalside, we went to the Naval Park and toured two military ships and a submarine. The tour was nice, but seemed to be too much. Touring three different ships in one day is actually pretty tiring. Susan gave up midway through the second ship. Aaron and I had to move pretty fast through the second ship to leave in time to not miss a famous lunch.

IMG_5520After checking out the Naval Park, we had lunch at Anchor’s Bar. The bar is the birthplace of Buffalo Wings. We shared a platter of 50 wings, hot and medium. The wings were very good. The hot weren’t as hot I am use to though.

After lunch, we headed to the airport to catch our plane. If only we knew that our plane was delayed a few hours. We did not get into New Orleans until after 1am.

Thanks for reading. Click on any of the photographs to view the entire album.

Niagara Falls, Canada Trip

On June 8, 2015, we drove from Toronto to Niagara Falls. After hearing from several people that visited the area, we decided to stay on the Canadian side of the falls. We rented a condo about IMG_2461a mile and a half from the Falls. On Monday we checked into our condo, went grocery shopping and relaxed.

Tuesday was overcast and rainy. What better day to see the Falls, right? We headed to the Falls and took the Hornblower Cruise, Voyage into the Falls. The boat ride was amazing. It started along the American Falls and then journeyed to the Canada Horseshoe Falls. The force of the falls was very impressive. I brought my GoPro and was able to take some photographs and video while on the boat. WeDCIM100GOPRO all got soaked! After the boat ride, we decided go behind the falls. The Canadians dug a very long tunnel that goes behind the horseshoe falls. The tour, Journey Behind the Falls, started with a walk to the side of the Falls. Below is a picture of us on a platform beside the falls. After we went beside the falls, we walked through the tunnel behind the falls. They had two areas cutout where you could see the falls. The tunnel went about a third of the way behind the falls.

After walking around the Falls, we walked to Clifton Hill and played a round of miniature golf. Aaron and I get pretty competitive. I was loosing by eight strokes after hole nine. I was able to come back and beat Aaron by one stroke! The little guy scared me pretty bad for a moment.

On June 10th, we rented bicycles for the day. Aaron had a cruiser and Susan IMG_5336and I shared a tandem bike. We rode from Niagara Falls to Niagara on the Lake. The views were amazing. We went by the Whirlpool, which is an area in Niagara River where a sort of “whirlpool” occurs. We passed about five wineries along the route. The bike trip was about 15 miles one way. It took us a little over an hour to make it to Niagara on the Lake.

Niagara on the Lake is a small town, which reminded us of Fairhope, AL. It started to rain as we arrived. We stopped and had lunch and then started the return trip to Niagara Falls. The way home was a lot of uphill pedaling. Aaron and I got some triathlon training in after all! Susan wasn’t too pleased with the length of the ride though.IMG_5373

Fort George was along our way. We stopped at the Fort to check it out. The Fort kind of reminded us of the Pilgrim Plantation in Boston. There were several actors in the Fort that portrayed the roles of various people. They also did a firearms demonstration as we were leaving.

After our ride home, all of us were pretty tired. We stopped by the Taps on Queen Brewhouse to eat. The brewery was having a wing special. I think the wings were 22 cents each. After we ate, we headed back to the condo to relax. We wanted to see the falls at nighttime. Strangely, it doesn’t get dark IMG_5392until almost 10 o’clock.

At night, they light the falls up with high beam lights on both sides. It is almost surreal. After taking a few photographs, we went back to Clifton Hill. Clifton Hill was lit up pretty well to. It looked like a mini Las Vegas with all of the neon lights.

On Thursday, we visited Marineland Canada. Marineland was kind of a zoo and part of a theme park. We got there shortly after the park opened. We expected a large crowd like most theme parks. Hardly anyone was there this time of year. We had a blast. We were able to ride all of the rides with little to no waiting.

The park had Beluga Whales. I think this was our first time seeing Beluga Whales. They had quite the DSCN3014personality. They would stick there heads up to watch what you were doing.

There were several feeding areas in the park. We bought some food to feed the bears. The bears were funny. They would sit and wait patiently for someone to drop them a kernel. The deer, on the other hand, were quite aggressive. There was a fenced in area where you could buy some food to feed the deer. The deer would surround you once they knew you had food. Some would even nip at your clothes or a bag you were carrying. One bumped DSCN3062my arm to try and get me to drop the food. I didn’t like the deer feeding experience at all. Susan loved it and wanted to go back.

On Thursday night, we went back to Clifton Hill and played another round of miniature golf. I won again. This time I made sure that I did not let Aaron get so close to beating me!

On Friday, it was time to leave. We checked out of our condo and departed for Buffalo, NY. We spent half a day in Buffalo, which you can read about here.

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Toronto, Canada Trip

For our 2015 trip, we decided to go to Canada. None of us have ever been to Canada before. We first stopped in New Orleans, where we would fly out of, to visit my mom. Here is mom hard at DSCN2829work cooking Susan and Aaron’s favorite dish, BBQ shrimp. On June 5, 2015, we flew to Buffalo, NY, and then drove to Toronto. We rented a condo in downtown Toronto, which was across the street from the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre.

On our first night, we just went grocery shopping and called it an early night. Saturday we started with a tour of the Ripley’s IMG_5174Aquarium. Probably the coolest part of the aquarium was a long glass tunnel that had a moving sidewalk to take you through it.

After the aquarium, we took a trip up into the CN Tower. The CN Tower is the second largest building in the world. We started going up to about 1100′. Then we went up another 400′ into the sky pod. The views were spectacular. DSCN2903Here is a photograph of Susan and Aaron looking out of the skypod windows. There was a Blue Jays game going on at the DSCN2913time. We were actually able to look down and watch the game. There was also a helicopter flying around that was lower than us.

After the tour of the CN Tower, Susan saw a small train that was going around a brewery that we wanted to tour. Susan made everyone ride it. I think we were the only ones on the train that didn’t have a small child in our group…lol. After the train ride, we tried to tour the brewery, but the tours were sold out DSCN2922for the day.

In the evening, we ate dinner at Wahlburgers. We watched the show about the restaraunt and looked forward to trying their food. Everyone ordered a burger and loved it. After dinner, we went to the Mirvish Theater to watch Titanic the Musical. The musical was very well done. It was our first musical, other than the Broadway plays we have been to. The photograph is the stage during intermission.DSCN2933

On Sunday, we went to a Blue Jays game. The Blue Jays were playing the Houston Astros. The game was very good. The Blue Jays came back in the last inning to win the game. The stadium was electric. This was probably my favorite major league baseball game that we have been to.

After the game, Susan and Aaron wanted to go back to Wahlburgers to eat one more time. After dinner we went to the Amsterdam Brewhouse for a drink. I ended up buying a growler because they were so well made. I was surprised by the number of breweries and wineries in Canada. They were everywhere.

Monday morning we woke up and left for Niagara Falls, which you can read about here.

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New Orleans Triathlon

On March 29, 2015, Aaron and I did the New Orleans Triathlon. Aaron did the sprint distance and I did the Olympic distance. I wanted to do this triathlon as a build up to Ironman 70.3 DSCN0536New Orleans, which was three weeks later. There were several people from Pensacola doing the triathlon. The photograph on the right is several people in our triathlon club.

SWIM: The swim began in a marina off of Lake Pontchartrain. The water temp was 64 degree. I swam the 1500 meters in 27:21. My goal was 30 minutes. I was really surprised on how fast I got out of the water. This was the first time I swam in my full sleeve wetsuit, a Roka Elite. I did get a little warm toward the end of the swim. Aaron swam the 400 meters in 8:50. This was also Aaron’s first time racing in his new wetsuit.

BIKE: The bike ride was difficult. The route was an out and back with the Olympic distance doing DSCN0569two laps. The route passed over two or three bridges, which added some elevation to the course. I did the two laps (24.8 miles) in 1:15:31. I was hoping to average between 20 and 21 mph. I was just shy of my goal at 19.7 mph. Aaron did his bike ride, which was 12.4 miles, in 46:37. Aaron averaged 16 mph.

RUN: The run was similar to the bike ride. The run was an out and back, with the Olympic distance doing two laps. I ran the 10k in 50:47, averaging 8:11 per mile. I actually felt a lot better than I thought I would considering how hot it was. Aaron ran the 5k in 30:21, averaging 9:47 per mile.

Aaron started the race about 30 minutes after I did. I actually finished about two minutes after Aaron did with the time delay and extra distance.

Aaron was the youngest athlete (16 years old) to complete the New Orleans Triathlon this year! He won third place in his age division.

After the triathlon, we stayed in New Orleans for a few days. The week after the triathlon was Spring Break for Susan and Aaron. Our visit helped out my mom and stepdad as they were in the midst of moving into a house they were purchasing.

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Miami Marathon

On January 25, 2015, I ran the Miami Marathon. I signed up for this event because of a discount that was offered a year ahead of time. After doing Ironman Florida and then pacing for the Pensacola ExpoMarathon in November 2014, I took about a week break from hard training. I then ramped up my training with a goal pace of 3:45 for the Miami Marathon.

Near my peak week of training, I had pain in my shins. At first, I feared I had a stress fracture. I took a week off with no running and did a lot of message therapy. I started training again and my shin felt fine. However, I felt l lost a lot of fitness. I had trouble maintaining my goal paces.

Race morning was shaping out to be nice. I felt strong. The weather cooperated and was somewhat cold (for Miami at least). I went out with the 3:45 pace group. I dropped out of the pace group after mile 17. I just could not keep IMG_2302up. I ended up finishing at 4:17. Nowhere near my goal. It was very discouraging. Looking back, I am able to see how I tried to do too much, too fast. I didn’t give my body time to recover after several hard efforts. Also, training for the ironman seemed to take a toll on my body like nothing before. Lesson learned the hard way.

I did enjoy the race. Susan and I made a mini vacation out of the marathon. We stayed at my mom’s timeshare in Surfside. We explored some more of the city and went back to one of our favorite places to relax: Bayside Marketplace.

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