Friday, April 25, 2014

München on some bretzels, 'wurst, and schnitzel (lololol)

Pretzels +  Beer = Munich
Traveling via the S-Bahn train from the airport to central Munich, we emerged from the tunnels with a winter wonderland surrounding us! Well, there wasn't actually any snow on the ground, but there were huge flakes falling from the sky which was quite exciting for us!

We unwound at our apartment, while trying to make a game plan for the rest of the day. It was snowing, big wet, relentless, puddles of snowflakes, and many of the things I had listed for us to do were outside (i.e., go on a tour, drink beer outside, eat food outside, go to parks, eat a picnic with beer at a park, etc). We finally settled on going to the city center and exploring, 

We took a nice long walk through the city center, stopped by some shops, and ended up at Weisses Bräuhaus for a late night snack and cold brew. I ordered a pretzel soup while Eddie ordered some sausage, and we got two different beers to sample as we snacked. A perfect little first dinner! And by first dinner, I mean, we later went home and ate a second full meal/dinner. If I were to give Munich a theme, it would have to be sausage (bratwust, weisswurst, bierwurst,) bretzels (pretzels) and beer. Our diet was almost exclusively based off of those items during our stay here.

Day 1: Getting to know Munich

The lady on the right!!
Our first full day, we did a Sandeman's free tour in Spanish. It was very complete, (we also made a stop at Starbucks! first time in forever!!...where I proceeded to order a hot chocolate...) starting snowing partway through, but the sun emerged near the end of the tour. It was cool because one of the places we walked through, Odeonsplatz, we later saw featured in some indie movie that was on TV.

After the tour we walked through a cute little market, where I posed by some pretty flowers and some angry woman scolded me and said "NO PHOE-TOES". Funny how that seems to be a universally known phrase in every country. We also walked up a tower at Peterskirche which, per my count was 307 steps but according to Eddie, 295, and according to real facts, was 306 steps (WINNER WINNER WINNER :D )... There were some great views of Munich from here, but unfortunately a cage preventing us from getting any Cynthia-approved couple photos. Still got a nice self photo with the New Town Hall, as well as a view of some traditional Bavarian buildings, which I love!

New City Hall
Bavaria! (Old City Hall)
We headed down from the tower, and my butt and thighs were convinced  that I'd done about 500 squats after so many steps! We ate lunch at Augustiner Beerhaus, which is just one of the many beer houses there are in Munich. This was one of the best parts of Munich... getting to taste an array of beers that were all made right there in the city. Our waitress wasn't the kindest nor the most patient lady, but we had a good meal and some good beer!

Next, we took a hike to visit the Alte
Pinakothek art museum. I was super excited because it's one of the top rated things to do in Munich, but we came at a baaaad time because half of the museum is under renovation! Famous artists like Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco, da Vinci...all their stuff happened to be in the part that was closed. It was still great to wander around an art museum, though!

We ended the night with a soccer match!!!!!!!!!...on television. I wanted to watch some German soccer but Bayern Munchen wasn't playing in town that weekend, so we watched it on the big screen at a local bar! It's fun to compare the different level of emotion expressed by football fans across Europe. In Spain, it's nonstop old men cursing at the screen for ninety minutes of soccer. In Munich, the fans would cheer loudly after a goal for a solid 20 seconds, then resume their normal seated positions. To each their own!

Day 2: Neuschwanstein Castle!

This was perhaps one of my favorite days of our whole three-city trip. We were off to visit the castle that inspired the Disneyland castle! We loaded up on German pastries then got on a train where we trekked two hours westward toward Fussen, Germany. The landscape grew continually more mountainous the further we went. Once we arrived at the train station, snow capped mountains were all around us. After a short bus ride, we arrived at the cutest village that sits beneath the castle! And we saw this beauty looming high above us :)
My house

I should really be more clear and note that there are actually two castles that we visited in this same area. The first one is Hohenschwangau, and it is...basic. Look at me, a snooty little princess-wannabe saying that Hohenschwangau castle isn't good enough lololool. It's just not as magical looking as Neuschwanstein. And I think that is a fair judgement. See for yourself!
Hohenschwangau Castle
Since we were in the village anyway, we did visit Hohenschwangau, which was a quick 10 minute climb up the hill, and another quick 25 minute guided tour. We then walked the 20 minutes up the mountain to Neuschwanstein, where all the magic happens! It's a beauuuutiful castle, but it's surrounded by thick woods so there aren't super great angles for me to pose like a princess and pretend that I own the castle, but we still managed to get some other good shots!

Loved the mountains surrounding the castle!

A carriage ride down from the castles

We were exhausted after going to the castle, but we had to muster the energy and intelligence for the last task of the night...HintQuest!! This was a really nerdy but thoroughly enjoyable experience... it's a live escape game, so, pretty much the hosts of the game lock us in a room with no directions other than "look for the clues and solve the puzzles and you'll find out how to escape". I've never done anything like it, so it was awesome! I can't go into details of the procedure, because that could ruin the surprise for other people, but if anyone is curious just ask me about it in person :)

Day 3: Relaxin'

Our last day we packed up our stuff and headed out for a couple more stops in Munich. First up was Paulaner am Nockherberg! This is the place where the famous Oktoberfest takes place! We ate at the restaurant, where I got to try the dark beer that was currently in season. Not my favorite German beer, but I drank it all anyway. It was finally a nice, warm, sunny day and it was great to just veg out on the terrace of the restaurant. We left this place around 3pm...and we noticed that many traditionally dressed young people were starting to fill the main plaza area. Munich has the famous Oktoberfest at the end of September, but in March, when we were there, they have a "Starkbierfest", or a dark beer festival. Essentially the same idea as Oktoberfest, but on a smaller scale. So all these people were starting up the party at 3pm!

We ended our time in Munich with an afternoon stroll in Englischer Garten. We got some ice cream, listened to some music, and sat in the sun. This huge park and the activities going on there reminded me a lot of Grinnell's Mac Field during the Spring. People were sprawled out on blankets, others were playing frisbee, having a picnic, or sharing a brew! It was great and made me somewhat nostalgic.

This was our last stop in Munich, and it was perfect. We slowly made our way to the airport for our late night flight to Barcelona...where I was to be reunited with my sisters after seven months of not having seen them!!

Friday, April 4, 2014

HEJ Stockholm!

Hej! (Pronounced, in a very enthusiastic tone: HAY!)

This is the way we were greeted by every person we spoke to in Stockholm, Sweden, always with a smile, and always as a strong interjection! Of course, this is Swedish for "Hello", but it was funny to think that everywhere I went people were just greeting me with an informal "Hey" in English.

In the first leg of our three city trip, Eddie and I took a three hour flight from Barcelona to get to Stockholm. In preparation for this trip, I checked twice daily to see if a miracle would occur and the weather would NOT be freezing. To my dismay, the weather forecast showed a steady range of 25-34ºF for our trip. I haven't experienced a real winter since 2011/2012. Ourense winters don't get much colder than about 40ºF. Last year, I went to visit Poland where it was 29º and I cursed incessantly as soon as I set foot outside and I had serious concerns about my health. Yeah, I've turned into a baby. This being said, I prepared for Stockholm adequately; I packed sweaters, my winter coat, riding boots, wool scarves, wool socks, under shirts, over shirts, etc.

Of course, the whole time we were there, the weather turned out to be a balmy 52ºF. Oh well.

Literally what I saw at every bus stop
Our first night there, we took time to walk around the neighborhood in which we were staying, bought some groceries, and relaxed after our long trip. We did immediately notice the cleanliness, organization, and cordiality of people, but it was something we kept getting reminded of the whole time we were there. The streets were spotless: there was no litter, and no trails of urine or dog feces laying around like there is in Spain. When waiting for a bus, people would get in line, even if the bus hadn't arrived (Anna Bosak you would have been in heaven here). The bus drivers themselves would always smile at you as you were getting on the bus. I asked for directions several times and everyone was very much obliging, always with a smile. (Thank God almost everyone also spoke English. Swedish sounds like a mixture of French/Italian/German/Arabic to me). One day at a small cafe, which didn't have more than six tables, we noticed that, like clockwork, whenever a new customer came in and started looking for a place to sit, someone who was at a table would vacate their spot for them. We were witnessing this from our own table, thinking how cool and polite everyone is, and then we got up to leave at the same time a big family came to eat. They must have thought we were vacating our table for them so the father came and said something nice to us, and made motions to show "Thank you". We pretended that that was totally our plan, and said "You're welcome".

Our first day out was a loaded one. On our master itinerary (Anna, you would also be proud of the six-page schedule I created) I had scheduled two museums for us to visit on the area of Stockholm known as Djurgarden. The first museum, the Vasa, is a large exposition of a huge shipwreck from the 1600s. It was cool hearing how it was built and seeing a bunch of gadgets  recovered from the wreck. Just the mere size of it was cool to see. In the picture at the right, I am on the third floor of the museum in order to be eye level with the ship! Unfortunately, you couldn't actually go on the ship and thus we were unable to take any 'I'm King of the World' photos. This is also the first place where I noticed it might be worth it to someday hire a personal photographer on trips if I ever have an insanely high salary. We picked out two different women to take a photo of us, and were confident with each one's photography abilities since they had each been snapping away on their own big, seemingly professional cameras. And each photo they took is pretty much a brown blur. Is my camera too low of quality for their abilities, or are their abilities too low for my wee little red camera? I will ponder that thought for a moment and retain the conclusion for myself... So anyway, throughout our trip we have a lot of individual photos but not as many couple photos as we would have liked!

Next up on the itinerary was the Nordic Museum. I loooved this was essentially a museum that showed the evolution of Swedish culture through the years. Everything from furniture, clothing, food, traditions, tableware, and jewelry was displayed. The furniture was especially cool to see because Sweden is always associated with IKEA and sure enough, even some of their furniture from past centuries has had some of the basic, clean, IKEA designs we see today! I also liked going through the hall which displayed different Swedish traditions. The one I have pictured here, St. Lucia, which is the girl with a candle crown, brought back especially fond memories of reading the American Girl series about the Swedish chick Kirsten!! At the end of the museum there was also a small exhibit highlighting stripes! Seems simple, but I loved it--it showed how stripes have been used over the years, especially in clothing, to depict power, and how stripes can be manipulated to create illusions such as the picture you see here to the right!

St. Lucia
We wandered around Djurgarden for a bit until we worked up an appetite for lunch. We hit up Ostermalm Saluhall, a big indoor market. There we ate like royalty... (and also paid as if we were as rich...) Fish is really big in Stockholm, so I tried a fish soup, while Eddie tried the fresh salmon. Both were delicious! Before heading out of the market, a decadent chocolate masterpiece caught our eye... it was a fudgey chocolate cake with piles of nutella frosting and drizzled with more chocolate and chopped hazelnuts. I declared then and there that it was the greatest cake I've had in years. (Yup, it even beats Funfetti cake). I unfortunately have no photo evidence of this cake, because as I've said many times before, I often times don't even stop to breathe let alone take a photo when masterful food is presented before me...I just dive right in.

That night we hit up Fotografiska, a photography museum. We passed an uncomfortably large number of hipsters on our way into the exhibition, but I cautiously strolled on. And I'm glad we did! There was a bunch of cool photography in the museum, some not so cool photography, and an interesting bookstore. I wish it would have been a bit larger, I could have gone on looking at more photography for another hour or two! This concluded our long day, and we went back to the apartment, absolutely beat.
A photo from my favorite exhibition. It was a series of adolescent girls in motion, symbolizing the changes they encounter during that period of their lives!

The next day, after our breakfast at home, we went on a Stockholm Free Tour. It was great! We passed many notable places of the city, such as the building where the Nobel Prizes are given out each year, a popular bar whose name translates to 'vomit', the H&M headquarters, (I always thought that store was German! Wrong!) and the most expensive shopping street in Stockholm, with its own rookie security guard monitoring back and forth! Ooh we also learned that the term "Stockholm Syndrome" originated from a bank robbery that occurred back in 1973 in central Stockholm. The thieves took in several hostages, who, after a period of six days developed empathy for the thieves, and eventually these hostages protected the thieves when they were trying to escape from the bank.

Next we wandered around a bit, trying to work up a bigger appetite since we were inevitably going to spend a huge load of money on lunch. We settled on a cafe that was recommended by our tour guide, and it was some decent food! Cheaper than most places, yet still expensive. To get an idea of how expensive Stockholm is, we ordered from the lunch menu at this cafe, and by ordering a small appetizer, two non-alcoholic beverages, and a lunch plate each, we paid about 550 Swedish kronor, or 60 euros, or about $84. And this was a cafe, not a nice restaurant by any means! AND this was during lunch hours. During dinner, prices can double!

After lunch we went home to refuel, and take a nap. Well, I took a nap anyway. That night we were going on a pub crawl and I was assuming we'd have a long night ahead of us! I was wrong.

We watched many rounds of Blackjack but were never brave enough to try!
We did in fact go on the Pub Crawl, and it started at the first bar at 7pm. We were dumbfounded as to how to fit this into our essential eating schedule. We usually eat dinner at 9pm...and we don't start heading out to bars until 12-1am. We got to that first bar a bit before 8pm, and did the whole "crawling" thing, talked to some interesting people, had an Irish man accuse our pub crawl host of sexually assaulting his friend, Eddie won a darts competition, drank our occasional beer, and so on and so forth. We got to our final destination around 11:30...this was mentioned on the flyer as a "night club" when in fact it was...I don't even know what. First of all, it was agonizingly obvious that the place was meant for an older crowd. The dance floor consisted of a small 10' x 10' square, with a DJ playing songs whose beats went no faster than "Every Breath you Take" by The Police. And the songs that did originally have a faster beat were remixed by the DJ to a slower beat. Hilarious. The rest of the place was part bar, part lounge, part blackjack tables. An odd, odd, place. Around midnight, I decided that I would really like to try the food stand across the street, and we made a dash for it. Best decision of the night.... our tour guide had also recommended this type of food, which is sort of like a pita stuffed with mashed potatoes, coleslaw, and a hot dog. It's no KFC Bowl but it was DELICIOUS ALL THE SAME!

Drottningholm Palace
We slept in a bit the next morning, then set off for Drottningham Palace! This is Stockholm's Royal Palace where the royal family stays, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Palace itself is about 30-45 minutes out of the city center, but in my research I had come across many people remarking of its beauty so I thought it'd be worth it to go! We took a train out toward it, and then a bus to the palace itself. Driving up to Drottningholm was a little magical experience in and of itself. The Palace looks out onto a lake, so you its large reflection in the water! We wasted no time in going to take photos in front of the palace.

We spent the next couple hours exploring both the inside of the Palace (which was very limited, we spent maybe twenty minutes inside) and then the extensive gardens. The gardens itself were worth the visit, in my opinion. I'm sure they're even more beautiful when Spring is in full bloom, but it was great to just wander past so many lovely bushes and into the woods, to see this Chinese theater and to witness the beautiful palace from afar!

After our visit to the Palace, we made our way back to Stockholm Central. We wandered around a bit, searching for food, when we had a great idea: to eat at Pizza Hut. Eddie had never eaten at a Pizza Hut, and I had long since been craving its oily pan crust goodness, so we went full speed ahead to it. And it was probably the best meal we had in Stockholm, not to mention the cheapest!

Our last stop of the Stockholm trip was Skogskyrkogården, a big beautiful cemetery, and yet another UNESCO World Heritage site! This was a perfect place to end the was so peaceful and gorgeous, especially since we arrived at sunset. There were a few people jogging through the paths, some people visiting tombs, and others just sitting around reflecting. I wish we had had more time there, but, we got lost, and we had to make it back onto the metro before our three day pass expired, so time was limited! But I think we got to see the most beautiful parts of the cemetery.

And so we went back to our apartment, packed out bags, prayed to the discount airline gods that our suitcases weren't weighed the next day, and went to bed to get some sleep in order to energize ourselves for the next destination: Munich, Germany!