Thursday, December 25, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: Radom Photos

A few random photos to finish off our Munich Christmas Adventure.
The architecture was beautiful throughout the city. This is one of the churches near an open-air food market.
Flower market at the edge of the Christmas market.
A view of the crowd wandering through the Christmas market at St. Mary's square.
This was a gorgeous little park we stumbled upon on the way to another Christmas market at dusk. Too bad we hadn't gotten there earlier and gotten a few more nice photos.
Nativity sets (or mangers) are very popular and this was a unique one made of metal.
Here are more traditional wood carvings. Very elaborate and amazing workmanship.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: The Castles of King Ludwig II

As part of our adventure, we took a day trip to see two castles built by King Ludwig II - called the Fairytale king and considered a bit crazy as well. It was a big bus tour, which we didn't realise and we hate and it was really foggy so we could barely see the castles. All in all, not our best adventure, but still beats being at work! :)

Despite the overcast day, there were some nice scenic views like the one of this lake.
This is the first "castle". I know, we were disappointed too. Isn't there a size minimum to be considered a castle? The whole thing was a tourist trap. You paid about 15 Euro for a very short 15 minute tour through a bunch of gaudy rooms without being allowed any photos. Very disappointing so we didn't have very high hopes for the next castle.
But I did get to see snow!! First real snow in 4 years so I was thrilled . . . okay maybe not thrilled since it was a small dirty patch in the parking lot, but happy enough to snap a photo!
This is the cute little town at the bottom of the hill of the second castle. Very cute and really good German beer and food. We had a little lunch and then hiked up the hill to the castle.
Now that's what I call a castle. At least that's what it would have looked like had the fog not been so dense that we couldn't see much of anything. You can see how this place would have inspired Walt Disney. 
Here's the actual view that day - not nearly as impressive.
And again, no photos allowed inside. Why is that? Such a disappointment when you pay to go in and then can't take photos. This castle is only about 30% finished as Ludwig died (murder? suicide?) before completion and the country was already in so much debt, they halted all construction a week after his death and never resumed. Now they use it to make money off us gullible tourists.
Cute view coming down the hill from the castle. By now we were tired, cold and damp from the constant drizzle and ready to head back to Munich.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: The Food!

In the heart of Catholic Bavaria the food is good. The beer is good. The many varieties of mulled wine, cider and run are good. The fact that I didn't bring along stretchy pants is not good!
We started our feasting at an adorable little restaurant just down the street from one of the Christmas markets. It was our first night and we were surprised by the cold. This place was cozy and warm and served meatballs. This photo is of the homemade mustards - honey & curry and gingerbread. They went perfectly with the rabbit, beef & pork and chicken meatball feast.
We didn't try one, but these are stuffed apples - one with chcolate, one with marzipan and the final with rosemary and cheese.
Pretzels everywhere! You can even get them cut in half with butter in between - heaven! I think I had more pretzels this week than in the rest of my life.
Mmmmm, this is pork knuckle. Crispy on the outside (think fried chicken crispy) and oh so tender on the inside. This is a 1/2 knuckle, which we shared with some coleslaw and pretzels. Yum!
And of course sausages. You can see here the foot long brats they were serving. We had a number of different kinds and each really good. With pretzels or rolls or bread. Wow!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: BMW Plant Tour

In between the eating, drinking and merry making, we visited the BMW plant. Munich is the headquarters for BMW (Bavarian Motor Werks) and as such, puts on quite a show. These photos are all from the showroom or BMW World. We also took a 2 hour plant tour, which was amazing but didn't allow any photos.
The Munich plant can produce up to 1000 cars per day. Much of the plant is completely automated and the robots putting things together were amazing to watch.
This is one of the new concept cars. BMW is currently experimenting with different types of materials (a plastic is in the works now), electric cars, lighter frames with better durability. Lots of research.
This is a little BMW classic they drive around the showroom a few times per day. Cute.
My Christmas present? Unfortunately not. :(
This is the delivery area for customers to pick up their new BMWs. They make it a very special and memorable experience. I remember my delivery in Abu Dhabi was pretty awesome - can't imagine how cool it would be to take delivery here. This area is on the second floor of the showroom.
The BMW motorbike section.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: Beer

Yes, there is lots of beer in Munich! Germans were brought up on beer and still tax and consider it a food. A traditional Barvarian breakfast is 2 boiled sausages, a pretzel and a Weiss beer - and I have to say I highly recommend it! :) (Okay maybe only for breakfast while on vacation). Here are some beer facts we picked up along the way.
The head of foam means your beer is fresh and at the right temperature. This idea of ice cold beer is a marketing ploy to help us choke down sub-par beer. Real beer should be served cool but not ice cold so you can taste the flavors. Until commercial refrigeration came along, beer was brewed only in the fall and winter and stored in cellars with blocks of ice to keep it as long into the summer as possible.
Yes, this is breakfast and that's Brian's latte next to my beer. Hey, when in Rome . . .
We also tried Prosecco for breakfast and before you think Brian's innocent, there's a shot of bailey's in that coffee cup!
These were two of our favorites. The one on the left is a Weiss beer (wheat) and the dark one is a barley beer. There is actually a law in Bavaria to regulate the quality of beer that states the beer can only contain wheat or barley, hops and water. Kept things pure and is still the standard to this day. And, I have to say you can tell the difference. The beer here is crisp and clean and supposedly doesn't give you a headache the next morning. No, we didn't drink THAT much to find out!!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: The Christmas Markets!

The Christmas markets in Munich are considered some of the best, and while we don't have anything to compare them to, we thought they were pretty great. Well, I thought they were great - you can imagine that Brian was less impressed with a craft market, but he was a good sport and put up with the cold for me.
The first thing to understand about the markets is the Gluwein. This is a hot mulled wine concoction designed to keep the cold at bay so you can do more shopping. We saw a lot of Gluwein drinking and not a lot of shopping so not sure it's working as intended. Here's Brian warming up at one of the many we visited.
Here's a view of one of the Gluwein huts - pretty festive!
You are served the drinks in real mugs and you pay a 3 euro deposit, which you get back when you return the mug. Nice environmentally friendly way to deal with all those drinkers. It's also important to note that there are many types of hot drinks at the Gluwein stands. The traditional is a red mulled wine, but there is also an apple-based mulled cider, orange rum punch, strawberry rum punch and an egg nog type drink served with whipped cream. Yes, we tried them all!
Here is a really elaborate Gluwein and brat stand. It turns just like those little holiday decorations with the candles that make the rotors turn. 
Each market also has a nativity somewhere - we heard that one was a live nativity, but didn't run across it. This was a particularly pretty one.
The best time to go is dusk as the lights are coming on and then staying until full dark. The markets run from about 10am to about 8 or 9 pm, depending on the location.
Here's a good view of one at the Munich Royal Residence. We were in the museum so could capture the market from above. This one had a live performance stage in the middle and then lots of craft booths along with Gluwein and sausages.
The markets sell everything Christmas - ornaments, candles, decorations, soaps, cookies, candy and warm weather hats, socks, mittens, etc. Like a craft market with a Christmas theme. We visited four during our stay and were told there are more than 15 across the city. There's even a small one at the airport!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: Hilter and the Beer Hall

One of the stories on our walking tour was about Hitler and his brush with early demise. As many of you probably know, Munich is considered the birthplace of the Nazi movement in Germany. What you might not know is that it is also the birthplace of the Nazi resistance in Germany.

According to this story, Hitler was at one of the famous beer halls one evening spouting his views and rallied around 3000 people to march through the city. Sounds a bit like a drunken bad idea, but hey.

They marched through the town and came across a military road block so turned the corner to avoid it. Unfortunately, the police also saw them and came around to meet them. Shots were fired and Hilter was saved by one of his bodyguards who took 11 bullets to save him. Even more interesting is that the bodyguard survived . . . only to be shot by Hitler later in his campaign (so much for gratitude).

Imagine if just one of those bullets had hit their mark?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: Marienplatz & the Glockenspiel

One of our first adventures in Munich was a 3-hour walking tour . . . in the cold. Even my love affair with the cold weather started to wear off about hour #2. We had a great guide who told lots of stories about Munich which I'll try to share with you.

Our first stop was Marienplatz (Mary's Square) and the famous Glockenspiel. Glockenspiel means ringing bells in German and this GS also has a little show it puts on 3 times per day. The first show is the top of the tower where you see a number of Germans partying at a wedding feast. This represents the marriage of King Maximillian and his wife Marie. Then there is a joust that plays out.

The second level tells the story of the plague that hit Munich a number of different times. When the plague hit, all the healthy people would lock themselves in their houses as a quarantine. This was a problem for the coopers who made beer barrels since no one was out buying beer. They were the brave souls that finally left their houses to see if the plague had passed and when it did, began dancing around town to alert the rest of the townspeople that the plague was over. This has now become a traditional dance that takes place every seven years in Munich. Book your tickets for January 2019 for the next one.

The Glockenspiel is part of the new town hall that sits in Marienplatz (Mary's square). The square, named after the Virgin Mary is home to the largest Christmas Market in Munich. It has a column in the middle with a golden statue of Mary on the top and is in between the new and old town hall buildings.

Here you can see the two levels of the Glockenspiel. The jousters come out 3 times per day.
Here is a glimpse of the square and the Christmas market. More on the markets in another post.
And a nice night shot of the square all lit up.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: The Beer Hall Story

There are many many beer halls (brauhaus) in Munich and many stories to go with them. This one, while crude, is still pretty funny.  WARNING: Story may not be suitable for small children or the easily disgusted.

The beer halls are huge places with simple tables and benches where men would gather to eat, drink and be merry. They were very popular and always crowded so getting up to go to the bathroom could mean losing your seat or worse than that . . .  your beer.

So an enterprising young Barvarian set out to solve this dilemma by installing a gutter under the tables for this very purpose. As our guide said, "the men would put down the leder, take out the hosen and use the gutter underneath the tables".

Now this worked for a time with one very disgusting problem - splashback.

Time for another enterprising young Barvarian to think of a solution. This time, it was the use of the walking stick. The gentlemen about to 'put down the leader and take out the hosen' would first tap each man in the legs under the table, which would signal that they should lift their feet to avoid a nasty splash. Ingenious those Germans, huh?

This also worked for a time, but the men got tired of the bruises on their shins from the walking sticks.

Yep, another enterprising young Barvarian to the rescue. He figured out that you could carve a spiral groove down the length of the walking stick and then, if positioned just so, one could relieve the hosen and not splash his drinking buddies.

Can you just imagine? The smell must have been just awful. Luckily, indoor plumbing eventually made it's way to Germany!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Munich Christmas Adventure: It's cold!

Our first impressions of Munich? Dang, it's cold! 34 degrees to two people who haven't seen anything lower than about 65 in almost 4 years is really cold.

For me, that's exactly what I wanted so I was thrilled and loved having to wrap up with a scarf and gloves. Yep, I was cold, but it was such a refreshing change that I really enjoyed it.  My husband, not so much. He's been a really good sport, though.

I know my Wisconsin friends cannot relate, and I wish I could express it in a way that you would also understand, but I don't think I can. You see, I really miss having 4 seasons and while I do enjoy being warm and having sun EVERY day, I really miss the variety. I also miss wool socks, fleece, wearing scarves for warmth instead of fashion and cozy sweaters. That feeling when you step in from the cold into a warm house or restaurant. Drinking hot drinks and feeling them warm you up from the inside. Even with the air conditioning on it's highest setting, you can't replicate that feeling.

I think the other thing is that the turn to cold weather forecasts the holiday season. It is hard to get in the holiday spirit when you shop for your fake Christmas tree at the grocery store while wearing a T-shirt and flip flops. :) For me, the cold is Christmas as much as ornaments and presents so this trip is really putting me in the spirit.

Besides the weather, Munich is brimming with Christmas cheer. Decorations everywhere and every corner looking cozier than the last. I'm in heaven!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Starting our Munich Christmas Adventure

First an apology for my loyal readers - I have been busy, I mean lazy. And while I'd like to promise that I'll get back on track and blog regularly from here on out, I'm not sure that's a promise I can keep. In any case, I'll try my best to keep you up to date on our Munich adventure while here.

Why Munich you ask? This adventure started in May on my birthday. I don't remember exactly why, but I decided that for my birthday I wanted to plan a Christmas trip for the first week of December (National holiday so a good time to take a week off while only using 3 vacation days). I had 3 requests: 1) I wanted to see some snow, 2) I wanted to experience proper Christmas spirit, and 3) I wanted to try out FIRST class.

So, onto the flight booking system to see what was available and up pops Munich. Christmas markets - check; First class seats available - check; snow? - hmmm, maybe cold enough but doubtful. I decided 2 out of 3 was good enough and convinced Brian who reluctantly agreed. (He wasn't as excited about the cold weather idea for some reason.)

First class is a dream - seriously, we should all get to travel this way all the time.  Too bad that even with my discounts, it's expensive as heck! Here are a few photos so you can also enjoy the experience.
In the airport. Yes, we were that geeky couple taking a selfie with our first class tickets. What a bunch of losers!
On board and Brian hanging his jacket in his own personal closet. Makes the dress code of a jacket worthwhile when you get your own closet!
It's like you're own little living room on board when you've got the two middle seats like we did. There's even a privacy panel in case you're not traveling with your neighbor  (or I suppose in case you've had enough of your spouse!)
Big comfy leather seats that recline flat so you can get a nap in.
A welcome box of chocolates! Yes please.
And welcome on board dates and Arabic coffee.

And what I didn't get a photo of are:
  • The set of lounge wear - pullover shirt and pants and slippers that you can wear during the flight so your own clothes don't get wrinkled. We didn't bother as it was a day flight but are using them now as PJs!
  • The amenity kit with toothbrush, mints, lip balm, face cream, hand cream and sleep aid lavender scented oil.
  • The noise cancelling headphones that are so good you have to take them off when they bring you your food and drink or you can't hear anything!
  • And the food and drink? You have your own first class chef that will pretty much prepare whatever you'd like and make recommendations. We made sure we ate twice on our 6-hour flight so we could try breakfast and lunch!
Clearly we arrived in style!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Prague: Chesky Krumlov castle

There are a number of day trips one can arrange from Prague. We decided on Chesky Krumlov castle. The location was a good choice, the tour company however ...
It started with the threat of rain. Luckily, we had brought along the umbrellas we bought in Budapest when we were caught in that shower so that didn't cause too much trouble. The real problem was our guide. First, he had to give the tour in English and in Spanish and he kept forgetting which language he was in! He'd start in English, then forget to repeat in Spanish. Then he's start in Spanish and realise he was trying to talk to the English speaking tourists. He kept correcting himself, forgetting names, dates and events. It was a bit of a mess.

But, the place was beautiful and the castle tour itself was very interesting (different guide) except that they didn't allow photos, which I think it just mean.
This is a bridge that connects the different parts of the castle over this ravine. 
The town was so gorgeous with this river running through it and the old houses.
There are all kinds of different architectural types in the same place here. Our guide said it was because the town was too poor to tear down the previous style and rebuild in their own. Lucky for us!  If you look closely, you'll see Jesus and a bishop entertaining the kids by the monument.
View after view and each one better than the last. Too bad for the cloudy skies. 

You can see the kayakers in this photo. They get a little bit of rapids as they go over the dam.