January 24, 2012

Photos From Germany

So, I finally have put photos from Europe onto DVDs, and here are just a few of them from our Christmas in Munich. Please keep in mind these are straight from the camera, no adjustments in lighting have been possible.

Weimaraners begging in Munich

Christmas stalls in one of markets

Christmas lights in Salzburg

Until next time, be safe.


Hosting by Yahoo!

January 01, 2012

Visiting Andechs

I am just going to write a quick blurb about our visit to the Andechs Monastery, near the little town of Andechs, Germany. I wanted to put a little something about it for three reasons: it was awesome, it came recommended (hats off to our friends who told us about it), and also because it was our final day and hence experience in Germany.

So, a little background about Andechs, in particular the abbey there, since we didn't really visit the town. It is Benedictine abbey that has been brewing high quality beer since 1455. This was my primary reason for going there, though the church itself is pretty well-known regionally. Apparently, legend has it that there is a thorn from the crown of Jesus in the church, though it is seemingly a bad idea to tell a bunch of folks drinking high-gravity Abbey beer that somewhere hidden in this old Baroque church is an old relic. Those types of things get really interesting after a couple of liters of beer. (No, mom, I didn't drink two liters--I drank 2.5!)

So, we set out from Munich mid-morning, after arriving from our visit to our friends' home in Rosenheim. We didn't even go to our hotel, instead storing our bags in lockers at the train station. We took a regional train to the town of Herrsching, which apart from being a scenic German town had little going for it other than being the last stop on the train ride for people heading to Andechs. On the train there, we met another American named Andy. He was a nice guy, about a decade younger than us (ahhh!), and finishing up a backpacking trip through Europe, his first venture out into the world. It's nice to meet people who have finally gotten around to starting to travel; I think everyone should travel so I love meeting people who are.

Anyhow, getting from Andechs from Herrsching requires either waiting for a twice-daily bus or hiking 4km up a fairly substantial hill. We really didn't get started until after 1pm, so the three of us were in a race against time, to get up, drink a lot of great beer, and try to be heading back down before sundown. The hike up was pretty amazing, starting out in the plaza of Herrsching, sneaking through residential areas of the town itself, and finally shooting straight up a hill before turning into a full-on woodsy trail into the Black Forest. We would have been hopelessly lost if not for the hand-painted signs, a quaint touch. After climbing up along along a leaf-strewn trail through the winter forest (there was no snow thankfully), we suddenly found ourselves in a long meadow that looked out over a deep valley, with a distant town and its church-tower, and in the distance large mountains. Andechs Monastery itself sat beyond a patch of trees, and we figured that we were close. Well, the path didn't go towards the monastery, instead dropping first into a small town, across a river, and then back up to the monastery, finally culminating in an intense stairway up to the top of the hill and the monastery complex. Needless to say, it took well over an hour, and we were pretty sweaty and ready for beer by that point.

We skipped the church for the time being, leaving that for after our beer drinking, and headed straight into the beer hall. It was pretty loaded with people, I can imagine that summertime becomes unbearable in the beer hall, what with the the small area for sitting, the huge summer crowds, and the stench of all those people who just hiked up that hill. The beer itself came straight from huge wooden casks, still brewed by the monks themselves, as well as served by them. We grabbed our first beers, and I also got some pretzels to soak up all the beer. Let me assure the skeptical, it was very good beer. I had three types, the hefeweisen, the dunkel (dark beer), and a winter clear wheat. I probably preferred the dunkel, it was amazingly smooth, though they were all great. As I said, I finished off 2.5L, though we sat there talking to Andy for several hours, and we also had a big old hunk of pork that was quite nice. It was easy to imagine being in the monastery in the 1500s and consuming the same things. 

Apparently once we finished quaffing beer and shoveling down meat, we visited the church itself, and Andy and I went looking for the thorn relic. I have vague recollections of that part, though, and don't entirely believe that we went in, though Jess has assured me that we did. I do remember the walk back down. We were entirely unsuccessful in leaving before the sun set, and found that we had to walk all the way down to Herrsching in the pitch darkness of the Black Forest, which now seemed very well named. Fortune was with us, in two ways: I had somehow put a small flashlight in my bag, so we had light to walk down with, and also, we found that we had really gone the long way on our way up. In fact, we probably had doubled the distance from the official route, though I am not sure how we found the official route in the darkness. They say God smiles down on fools and drunks, so we were doing just fine.

For entertainment value, Andy turned out to be a bit afraid of the dark. He denied it and tried to sound brave, but the quiver in his voice betrayed the fact that he found wandering through the dark woods to be somewhat intimidating, flashlight or no flashlight. We lightly teased him the whole way down, and before we knew it, we were back in Herrsching, then the train, and finally back in Munich. There, Jess and I wasted no time going back to our hotel, checking in, and hitting the sack, probably by about 8 pm. One should not take Abbey beer lightly.

The next morning we were up by 4 am, and headed to Venice, but that is for the next entry.

Until next time, be safe.

Hosting by Yahoo!

December 29, 2011

Christmas In Germany

Hi, it is Jess. I posted an entry on my blog about our Christmas experience, but Aaron asked me to repost it here. The original posting can be found here.

So far our trip has been absolutely great. We just arrived into Florence after spending a couple of nights in Venice. It is hard to believe that we have been on the road for over a week already.

Aaron and I had a really wonderful Christmas weekend with our friend Verena and her family. Aaron met Verena years ago when he studied abroad in Finland, and they have managed to keep in contact since then. We recently visited her in Chicago and she extended an invitation to spend the holiday with her family in Rosenheim, which is about a thirty minute train ride from Munich. We met Verena at the central train station mid-morning on Christmas Eve. The ride to Rosenheim took us through quaint Bavarian towns, and we could see glimpses of the snow covered Alps through the clouds. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we went to meet her parents at their apartment. Gisela and Jurgen gave us a warm welcome as we gathered for coffee and biscuits before going back out for the afternoon.

Our first stop was to a local restaurant in Rosenheim to eat the traditional late morning meal of white sausages and hefeweizen. This is a very common meal in Bavaria. According to Verena, these sausages are made out of the 'extra parts' of the pig, and they are supposed to be eaten before the noon bells ring so not to spoil. They are served in a large pot of hot water, and you eat one at a time so that they stay warm.
Eating instructions per Verena:
Remove one sausage from pot
Cut lengthwise but not all the way through the meat
Peel the skin without being too messy (we were horribly unsuccessful at this and used our hands)
Slice and dip in sweet mustard sauce
Wash down with Hefeweizen

This fine dining experience left us full and content as we boarded the train for Salzburg to enjoy some more holiday festivities. During the ride Verena and I took turns jotting down Christmas songs to be sung later in the evening around the tree. Of course we practiced our singing as we rode along, which was really nice. Aaron finally got a little embarressed during 'O Holy Night,' so he pretended not to know us for the remainder of the trip. We arrived to Salzburg around three or so and caught a bus that took us to the center of town. There were plenty of people out wandering, and a few frantic shoppers taking advantage of the final hours of the Christmas markets. The city was lit with beautiful white lights along the narrow cobblestone streets. After strolling through the main plaza we made our way up a steep hill to a quiet overlook of the city. There were no other people, just the three of us and the view below. Verena and I sang Christmas carols while we took in the lovely sight. The best part of being in this location was hearing the many church bells throughout Salzburg chime simultaneously at five thirty.

From the hilltop we quickly made our way back towards the center to an old graveyard. This is where the locals gather on Christmas Eve every year to listen to a brass band play carols on the rising hill. While the music sounds above, families place small Christmas trees and light candles on the graves of loved ones. All day had been very overcast, but while the music played the clouds parted, and we got a peak of the clear winter sky. It was a beautiful and peaceful experience, and I especially loved hearing Silent Night and humming along with the instruments and the crowd. Salzburg on Christmas Eve was a very surreal night for us, and we were so thankful that Verena shared it with us.

Following the music it started to rain heavily, so we caught a taxi to the train station and made our way back to Rosenheim. Gisela and Jurgen had prepared a lovely meal, so after singing a few more carols around the tree we sat down to a traditional dinner of homeade sausages and potato salad. The food was amazing and the conversation was lively. Aaron and I both felt right at home with Verena and her parents. Gisela and Jurgen are both passionate and intelligent people, so we covered a variety of topics well into the night while drinking fine local beer.

Christmas day started out with a traditional German breakfast-a variety of meats, cheese, bread, fruit, cereal and lots of strong coffee. We enjoyed a very low key morning lounging around the house and talking before Jurgen and Verena took us on a tour of the town. Rosenheim is a small comfortable city that is really quite scenic. We passed by churches, walked along the Inn River, and looked around the city center where there are old buildings and cobblestone streets. On our way home we stopped at a local brewery that is one of Jurgen's favorites, and we warmed up while enjoying a pint and liver dumpling soup. Delicious. We also made a quick visit to a chapel originally built in the 1400s. It was very small and dark except for the outside lights shining into the windows and a few lit candles. Once again we broke out the Christmas carols and sang into the still quietness of the church. It was beautiful.

Back at home Gisela had outdone herself once again with an amazing dinner of roasted duck, potatoes, brussel sprouts, chestnuts and beets. We had no difficulty clearing our plates. For dessert we enjoyed a delicious vanilla mousse with strawberry preserves. The remainder of the evening was spent lounging, looking at old photos from Verena's younger years, and talking. We made it back to our hotel around one or so, and slept for a few hours before getting up, enjoying a quick breakfast with the family, and making our way back to the train station for one final night in Munich. We couldn't have asked for a better Christmas. Verena and her parents really made us feel like part of the family. Wonderful memories to last for many years to come... 


Hosting by Yahoo!

December 28, 2011

Arrival In Munich

Well, I haven't been very good at posting entries on here at all. We are in our third country now, and I am just getting started.

So, we arrived into Munich on the 21st after a non-eventful flight from South Carolina. I didn't get much rest, so I was pretty tired once we landed, but it was a very smooth arrival into Munich and our hotel. Munich has a very efficient public transportation system, which is sort of a shock to the system as I am used to the chronically late and generally subpar (to European standards) public transit system of San Francisco. I mean, what does one do when a bus arrives at its scheduled time? No protests holding up an entire line? Absurd. 

Anyhow,we found ourselves at our hotel in record time. That's right, we have started out this trip staying in hotels, a remarkable departure from our previous experiences. Usually we are pretty hardcore about where we stay; an American we met the other day was telling about an instance he had bedbugs on his current trip, and I sort of scoffed and thought, "Only once?" Well, fear not, my friends, tonight is our last night in a hotel; tomorrow, once we arrive in Florence, we are back to the 14-bed bunkroom.

But I am getting off track, which, being a week behind, I cannot do. So we checked into our hotel, which was quite nice. Speaking of getting off track, allow me to define "nice" as it pertains to me; as Jess and I are travel nurses, and even though we have been in San Francisco since January now, we never knew how long we'd be there, so we have been sleeping on an inflatable mattress since we moved there. This place didn't have any air mattresses that we could see, especially ones held together by duct tape and late night reinflations.

At any rate, we couldn't actually go to our room, so we headed out into the center of Munich, a beautiful plaza called the Marienplatz. Now, we had a good reason to go to Germany in December--the Christmas markets. These turned out to be worth the hype, being numerous and randomly placed throughout the cities of Germany. They tend be merry and well-lit with lights, swarming with shoppers and filled with colorful gifts of all sorts. Different markets have different focuses; there is a medieval market, another that had stalls that sold only nativity scenes and their characters. The largest market, in Marienplatz, was the Target of the markets, selling all sorts of gifts and holiday paraphernalia. The one thing the markets had in common is that they all had glühwein, that spicy alcoholic beverage called glogg in the US, served piping hot; there is nothing better than a steaming cup of glühwein on a chilly holiday afternoon.

We didn't stay out long that first afternoon, opting to go back once it was possible to get into our room. We had no problem getting in a four-hour nap, before heading out to look for some dinner. On our first venture out, we'd taken the bus, as we had a day-pass for all public transit, but our nap made us feel more adventurous. So off we set on foot, only to find out that walking in the center of Munich tends to be more confusing than might think. Probably more due to the fact the center likely retains its medieval design than a critical failure of German efficiency, most roads in the center curve around and head out in all sorts of random directions. On our way into the center, we got a bit off track and wandered around an extra half hour, which was fine. Once on the center, we quickly found a restaurant near the Marienplatz, a joint called Ratskeller. It seemed like it had the potential to be a German Denny's, being a bit generic and probably quite touristy in the summer. For our purposes, it was great; I had a massive plate with an assortment of sausages, along with sauerkraut and plenty of beer. Jess's dinner was less extravagant but still pretty good. Stuffed and feeling our fatigue settling in, we decided to head back, but were still feeling adventurous, so we decided to walk (to burn off all that meat and beer, perhaps). This time we really got lost, seriously so, and crossed the center several times. I simply could not get my bearings in the city, which normally I have better success at. As a cheapwad, I'm loathe to take a taxi, especially when a familiar street might just be around the corner, and quite unfortunately we'd left our map at the hotel.

I'm happy to report that we survived and arrived back to our hotel, and all on our own, though we walked a good two and a half hours. We did ask one lady; she seemed to want to help us, peering at a bus-stop map for awhile, then getting on a tram looking as though was going to get some directions from the conductor. I thought that was quite above and beyond until the doors slid shut and we watched the tram and our would-be helper roll on down the street. The next morning we walked again, this time with our map, and found we were less than a half mile, about 15 minutes, from the heart of the center. Note to self: don't forget the map, and take the bus if you do.

Our second day, the 22nd, was all about walking and eating. We started with a cafe near Marienplatz, which we left before eating once we realized our coffee and OJ had already cost 20 euros (oh, yeah, we're in Europe). We were quite hungry, and it was near noon, so we walked a short distance and found a beer hall specializing in sausages (what else?) called Bratwurstherzl, where we found sausages grilled over open flames and plenty of beer. While scarfing down our food, we found they'd put us next to a couple of Americans (a common experience so far, though whether to allow us better conversation or to isolate us from other customers, I don't know). One of them lived in Munich, and he told us all about the choices of Christmas markets we had.

The rest of the day we spent using various markets to set goals for walking. There was a sort of light rain and sleet mix, with occasional snow,  but it was tolerable, so we were able to get in some serious walking. I have a pedometer, and it says I took just short of 25,000 steps, which it calculated to be about 14 miles. By late afternoon the weather had dropped the snow part and just was raining, so we headed back to the center. We were quite wet by the time we arrived, and lo and behold, we found ourselves back at the Ratskeller again. Several beers and food such as hot soup and delicious kuchen got us into cheery moods, so much that we decided to walk. Of course we got lost, but not too seriously, and we stumbled upon a market, for young folks, that only sold glühwein. It was our kind of place, and a couple of those helped make the wet walk more tolerable. Even better, the market sat next to a major landmark I remembered from our trek the previous night, and we were soon back.

An old friend of mine, Verena, had invited us to spend Christmas with her family, in a small city outside of Munich called Rosenheim. We were to go there on the 24th, but on the 23rd we had plans to meet Verena for lunch in the city, where she works. We spent the morning exploring the area north of the Marienplatz, an upscale business and historic area, getting in another decent mileage for the day. We had lunch with Verena in a Christmas market in the Englischer Garten (English Garden), which is Munich's Central Park, only bigger than the one in NYC. After, we wandered back through the center again, and on to our hotel, for a bit of rest. That evening, we wandered up to the train stop we'd need on our way to the airport after Christmas. It was the same one we arrived on, but after our treks around Munich, it seemed prudent to confirm the route. Near the stop we found  a restaurant that oddly enough had tex-mex on its menu. It also had southwestern US decor, including paintings of saguaro cactus. The menu also included schnitzel, which I'm pretty sure the Germans are more proficient at cooking than tacos or burritos, so I stuck with that, as well as some more excellent German beer. Actually, it was really good beer, so we stuck around, talking and drinking until far too late.

Thus ended our few days in Munich, which is a charming but also very modern city. The next morning we were off to Rosenheim for our German Christmas experience, but that is another entry.

Until next time, be safe.

Hosting by Yahoo!