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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Prost from Germany!

August 11, 2011

We woke up late and as usual missed both breakfast and the free hostel walking tour so we asked the girl at the front desk to create a walking tour for us. It was a great walk! You start at the hostel and then go under the arch down the main shopping thoroughfare past Marienplatz Square (the main square).

Don't forget to take a picture of the town hall which is beautiful! From there Dienerstrasse where you will pass more cool old buildings like the Residenz and walk through the manicured Hofgarten. Cut up through the garden and take a right on Princzregentenstrasse and walk until you see a huge collection of people.

They are watching the "Surf Wave" which is a surf wave created by a slab of concrete that fell into the river. Medium to experienced surfers spend the entire day surfing the constant wake. The best part is you can just drop in on the wave; you don't have to paddle out! Only one surfer at a time can go on the wave and they spend about 30 seconds each before letting someone else go. It was one of the coolest things I've seen.

This is also the start of the English Garden which is a huge park twice the size of New York's Central Park. As you walk north you will pass the "nude beach" which is an area of the park known for its naked sunbathers. There are also a bunch of "gypsies" practicing carnival tricks on the other side of the stream.

We walked even farther north to Chinesischer Turm or "Chinese Tour" one of the more popular beer gardens in Munich. We spent the next few hours at the beer gardens drinking giant mugs of Weissbier (wheat beer) and eating brats and rotissere chicken. The brats weren't very good but the chicken was amazing. Unfortunately, the bees thought so too. For whatever reason the city is COVERED in bees. Apparently it's because Germany has had a lot of rain this summer. All I know is it makes eating outside kind of unpleasant because they are constantly trying to drown in your beer.

There weren't that many people our age around (a group of four old men were sitting next to us playing a German card game that were drunk and hilarious) so we decided to play the two-person drinking my friend had created. It's very simple. Basically you play rock-paper-scissors or "roshambo" and if you lose the hand you take a drink. But if you TIE then you keep playing until someone wins. The loser has to take a drink for every tie that occurred. So if you tied three times and then lost you have to take four drinks. Needless to say I was terrible at this game and went through three giant beers pretty quickly.

A quick note about beer gardens is that when you buy the beer they take a Euro deposit for the mug and give you a token. You then have to go around the corner to the Deposit area to return the mug and get your Euro back. So don't lose your token! Or if you like the mug keep it! It was getting pretty late in the day at this point so we wandered back to the hostel. I bought a giant pretzel to chew on for the walk back and it was amazing. The pretzels here are the best I've ever had I think because they are made with sourdough? I don't know but seriously the best ever.

The best part about Wombats Munich is the WomBAR, which is obviously the BAR in the hostel. We decided to head in to make some friends since it was extremely lively at 6pm. Almost immediately I run smack into Brendan, my friend from Porto and Lagos! So random how you continually run into people all over Europe! He introduced us to three cousins from Illinois: Ben, Will, and Army (I can't remember his name).

After finding out they were still in college it became my mission to test their drinking skills. Will said he was the president of his frat so he was my biggest target. Within an hour Army bows out and the other two are DRUNK. Haha! At this point we'd also been joined by two other guys who just passed the bar, Carson and Justin. I'd also learned a thing or two about International Drinking Rules. This is a grouping of drinking rules that apparently are known all over to the elite few? Here are the ones I learned:

1) Don't drink with your right hand or you have to take a drink
2) If you say "yours" or "mine" you have to do ten push-ups
3) Don't say the word, "drink" or you have to drink
4) Don't point at people or "extend your digits" or you have to take a drink

And the #1 rule is don't tell people the rules so I'm taking a few drinks as I write this to atone for writing about them. There are likely to be a bunch of other rules but I don't know them...yet! The group of us, along with my friend, decided to hit the bars/clubs - whatever we could find. My friend who was still feeling really sick almost immediately headed back to the hostel to rest and we lost track of the rest (Will couldn't get into the club because he was wearing flipflops.

It ended up being Ben, Will and I at a random lounge that played great rock hits! I attempted to teach the two how to dance (Ben showed some promise). We came back and hung out in the lobby chatting until 4am because my sleep schedule at this point is so upside down.

August 12, 2011

We woke up at 8:30am this morning to go on our tour of Neuschwanstein Castle. I was definitely not feeling so hot...

We met our tour group at the train station near their office (Radius Tours) which was led by Mike/Spike/Orange T-shirt guy. He was super helpful, eager, on-time and knowledgeable which was a nice change from my last two tour experiences. I highly recommend Radius Tours. It took two trains to get to Hohenschwangau which is the town right below Neuschwanstein Castle. You have to be aggressive on these trains to get a seat so be ready!

Upon arrival (it takes two hours to get there) we stopped for lunch at a little cafe. It can take up to two hours to eat at the bigger restaurants so I recommend avoiding those. The cafe has amazing bratwurst for 2.50 Euro so why eat anywhere else anyway. I had two!

After the quick lunch, Mike debriefed us on our options for getting up to the castle. Basically you can walk (very strenuous), you can take the bus for like 2 Euro, or you can take a horse-drawn carriage (two hour line). The obvious choice was the bus which takes you up to Marienbrucke Bridge for a spectacular view of the castle. The bridge is pretty high up as a caution to people with a fear of heights! On the way I also grabbed a picture of Hohenschwangau Castle.

We had about 30 minutes or so to spend on the bridge before heading to the castle for our tour of the interior. You have to be on time or you will miss your chance. The whole tour was like a well-oiled machine just like Alhambra was (except better done). The interior of the castle was magnificent with very ornate wood carvings, lavish tapestries and secret rooms.

Here are some interesting facts I learned on the tour:

1) Hohenschwangau Castle (the other castle near Neuschwanstein) was built by King Ludwig II's father and was used as a summer palace by the royal family.

2) Neuschwanstein was built by King Ludwig II and was never finished because his family didn't want to invest more money in it after his death.

3) The building of the castle was started in 1869 and ended in 1886 when Kind Ludwig II died. It was opened for tourists only six weeks later even though multiple floors were never finished as well as the outdoor patio.

4) A structure can only be a castle if it includes both a palace and a fortress.

5) King Ludwig II was known as the "mad king" but he may not have been mad at all. The story around his death is still very suspicious. He was found dead facedown in the lake near the castle with his psychiatrist. This psychiatrist had just met him that day (after already signing a document saying he was crazy before actually meeting him). They had gone for a walk and never came back. Sounds pretty shady to me!

6) In 1996, they calculated the cost of building the castle based on the standard of gold at the time and it came out to about 124 million dollars.

7) The interior of the castle is based on Richard Vogner's operas because they were considered the best of culture at the time. Each room corresponds to a different opera from Tristan and Isolode to Lohengrin.

8) In the throne room the chandelier weighs over 2,000 tons and the floor is made up of over 2,000 mosaic tiles.

9) The dressing room of the king is accessed via a secret door built into the wall.

10) Neuschwanstein means "White Swan Stone."

We took one train back to Munich and returned to the hostel where I spent time updating the blog down in the solar (there's this awesome little outdoor greenhouse type area with couches and hammocks). It was there that I met Mitch Leiderhosen and his host of Aussies. They were headed to Augustiner which is one of the larger beer gardens in Munich and invited me to go but my friend was taking a nap so I said we'd meet up.

A few hours later my friend and I classed it up in little black dresses and walked to Augustiner with a bottle of wine and two glass glasses. Nothing like walking down a street in a nice outfit with a glass of red. It was a pretty ridiculous sight. We got a lot of stares.

Upon arrival at the beer garden we found tables filled with about 200 people. It was clear that finding the Aussies would be a task assuming they were still there. While waiting in line for beers we met a guy from Wisconsin named Billy who was so excited that I liked the Green Packers. He couldn't stop talking about his huge crush on Brett Favre.

Billy was on a pub crawl and eventually left at which point we began talking to a bunch of 18-year-olds who were training to be Formula 1 racecar drivers. Damn them! That's what I want to do! One was from Iceland, which confused my friend because she'd never really believed people lived there (sarcasm).

Next thing we know it begins to pour down rain so we make a hasty retreat to a taxi back to the hostel bar. What do you know? We found the Aussies!

We spent the rest of the night at the bar with only one excursion across the street to the takeaway pizza place.

This place has the BEST pizza (it's called Restaurant Ca'd'Oro). I suggest the artichoke and ham one.

August 13, 2011

Sadly we had to be out of the hostel by 10am which felt SO early but it didn't matter anyway since we needed to pick up the rental car by 12pm (they close early on Saturdays). We took two metros to get there and then waited forever for the car. We had been planning on going to the famous Hofbrauhaus beer hall for lunch but we didn't get back to the hostel until 2pm and really needed to get on the road. Oh well, I have to come back to Munich for Oktoberfest at some point anyway so I'll visit it then!

Somehow we managed to navigate our way out of Munich without a map - we only had to do one U-turn! Once on the A8 it is extremely easy to find the different castle towns. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention! We were renting a car for three days to travel a stretch of road from Munich to Frankfurt called the Romantic Road. It's about five hours driving directly but we were going to chop that up into stops at the different castles and medieval cities. We had the coolest car too, a sky blue Volvo convertible, but we couldn't get the top to go down which was very upsetting!

Our first stop was Dinkelsbuhl where we had a good lunch of brats and saurekraut at a restaurant called Kaffeehaus just off the main square. From what I could tell an older man and his son ran the place both of whom had faulty English and big smiles.

Back on the road we navigated ourselves towards Rothenburg which is probably one of the more touristy, famous castle towns. Along the way we made jokes about the word, Ausfarht, which means "exit" but we just kept yelling "Ass Fart!" every time we'd pass one (I'm extremely mature for my age). We also passed a bunch of creepy signs on the highway warning you not to speed or drive drunk. But rather then just having text the signs were pictures that looked like they'd been drawn by a little kid in crayon. One had a kid and a mom with a picture of Daddy on a cloud in heaven because he drove drunk and another of a little kid and parents visiting Grandpa's grave because he was speeding. Technically very effective advertising!

It was very easy to find our way into Rothenburg where we parked just outside the city walls in P1. From P1 it was a quick into the town where we checked into the Goldene Rose Hotel. The girl at the front desk was in a massive hurry because apparently there is a huge music festival going on down in the valley that she was anxious to get to. We'd been hoping for a relaxing night in a castle town but at the words, "giant music festival," we had to dawn our party hats once again.

At one point while we were getting ready I asked my friend if she wanted to go put money in the meter for the car and she said, "It's dark out and no one will hear me scream." This is hilarious because she lost her voice two days ago and can't speak above a very quiet whisper. It costs 5 Euro to park for 24 hours but they are nice and don't start the timer until 8am the next morning so it's really more than 24 hours.

On our way down to the concert we stopped at what appeared to be the only open restaurant, an Italian place called Pizzeria Italia on Herrngasse. We shared an excellent bottle of wine and our pasta was pretty good. The concert itself was sold out but apparently you can walk down the hill and listen to the music at the beer garden on the other side of the river which was just fine with us.

Halfway down the hill we were waylaided by an English guy who told us the music was ending in 30 minutes. He was with a sweaty group of guys who he introduced as a band from Belarus, Russia, who had just finished their set. The lead singer's name was Mat and he spoke excellent English. His two Russian friends didn't speak a word of it though. The English guy's name was Andy and he made up the fourth person in the group.

We decided to follow them back up the hill and into the town to an aptly-named bar called Rock Cafe. The two non-English-speaking quite drunk and apparently telling hilarious jokes because they couldn't stop laughing. One of them had one of those laughs that is so funny to listen to that you can't help joining in even though we had NO idea what he was saying.

Apparently the concert is made up of two parts. One part is the main concert which had big names like Iggy Pop and NOFX playing on the main stage. The other, smaller stage was the second part and dedicated to a European battle of the bands called Emergenza. Basically bands from all over Europe competed in their own country and neighboring countries to be one of the 18 bands selected to perform at this concert. The Belarus band was one of the 18, their band is called No Common Name and they are like a funky hard rock band.

The best part of the evening was that since my friend had lost her voice she had to write questions down on a napkin. They thought that was hilarious. After chilling at the cafe for a few hours we ended up back at their hostel trying a glass of Belarus brandy which was good but I couldn't stomach a whole glass of it. From there we walked around the corner to our hotel to sleep.

August 14, 2011

Today we spent the day wandering Rothenburg on a German food tour. We started with a breakfast of goulash and toast. Goulash is a stew made with meat and vegetables that's like chili without the beans. It's served piping hot. Of course the bees were trying to eat it too. I'm swear I'm going to kill the next one that tries to taste my food!

From there I took a jaunt up to the top of the church tour in the Markt square for 2 Euro. It actually was the best tower view of the trip so far! The inside of the tower was the most fun since it is all made of wooden stairs that are so old that the handrails are polished and slippery smooth.

Next I snacked on schneeballs as we walked down towards the concert. Schneeballs can best be described as the same material as funnel cake but more crispy and crunchy inside of doughy. Each schneeball has a different flavor. I ordered a cinnamon/sugar, a powdered sugar, and a dark chocolate-dipped one. They were okay.

This time we made it to the bottom of the hill where we found a little beer garden but all the tables were missing! We came around the corner and found crowds of people sitting at the picnic the river. Yes, they had carried the tables down to the shallow river and put them in the middle of the stream where they sat to listen to the music and enjoy their beers. The beers were 3.70 which wasn't terrible and we found a nice little bench facing the river where we sat for a few hours listening to the music.

I was on my way back to order another round when that famous German rain suddenly began to pour down on us. At first we tried to make a run for the city but we were soaked to the bone in about 15 seconds so we took shelter under a tent serving hot sausages and fries. Yes, I took advantage of the pitstop for a quick lunch.

Finally the rain began to let up and we trudged wet and freezing up the hill into the city. We were still hungry (we spend a lot of time eating in Germany it seems) so we stopped again for food on Herrngasse Street. We stopped at a hotel restaurant whose name I didn't catch but it is on the right hand side of the street as you walk into the city from the garden point before you get to Markt square.

We curled up in their giant overstuffed chairs and enjoyed piping hot mugs of gluvine with a warm plate of apple strudel. Gluvine is wine mixed with water, cinnamon and cloves and then heated so it is like wine cider. I wasn't expecting to like it but I found myself draining my mug.

All that was missing was a hot, hot shower so we walked back to the car and drove 18 km to our next accommodation in Colmberg. On our approach to Colmberg we saw a massive stone castle sitting atop the hill looking out over the town. I pointed it out to my friend and said, "That's where we are staying." We winded our way up the hill and pulled up in front of a legitimate castle with gate, tower, and gangway. AWESOME.

After an extremely hot shower I roamed the castle halls taking pictures. It was twilight at this point which made the dark hallways very authentic and equally creepy. The heads of stuffed animals lined the walls and the empty chapel felt like it was filled with ghosts. I felt like Nancy Drew on a mysterious adventure!

The castle grounds even boast their own herd of deer! This may sound messed up but when we went to the dining room for dinner 15 minutes later I ordered venison. What can I say I knew it was fresh! The venison was cooked to perfection in a juniper sauce making it one of the best meals in Germany. We also tried the wine and cheese soup and the Franconian wedding soup which has meat balls and noodles. Both were very tasty but very filling. My friend had chicken filled with cream cheese over a bed of rice that was also very good. All-in-all a perfect ending to a medieval day!

After dinner we took the rest of our wine out to the patio and I ran upstairs to change into pants because it was chilly. On my way back down the hallway I looked out the window to see the most beautiful sunset! Bavaria truly is a romantic place! The castle builders messed up because the patio doesn't face the sunset which is a major shame!

As we were finishing our wine, two guys around our age came up to our table. Their names were Mikhail and Tom and they were from New York. They've been friends since 7th grade, went to NYU together and then jointly launched a mobile company called Blue Bite. They asked if anything was going on that we knew of and we mentioned the concert although we weren't sure if it was over or not (it was almost 11pm at this point).

We rocked out to Aussie music on the ride and re-parked in P1 since our parking pass was still good. The concert was clearly over since streams of people were going in the opposite direction of us so we wandered until we found Rock Cafe again. It was hopping with people! My friend chatted with an Irish rastafarian while I talked to Tom and Mikhail. Tom told me that he wanted to go back to grad school for neuroscience because he thinks inception is actually possible. It was a really interesting conversation. Mikhail also told me about an old show called Caught in the Act. One of the episodes was about a bartender who stirred drinks with his you-know. Brings a whole new meaning to cocktail right?

We left soon after that because I was exhausted and the two guys weren't big drinkers. My friend was the only one who really wanted to stay out because she'd finally gotten her voice back! On the way back to the castle, Mikhail figured out how to put the top down AND get the navigation to pop up on the dash! Woohoo we actually get to USE the convertible!

August 15, 2011

Today was a big castle day! We woke up early and hit the A6. The first stop was Schwabisch Hall which is a small medieval town with a cool clock tower. The best part is walking along the river though because of the reflection of the old houses in the water. The food here was terrible though. We tried two different places and both were awful!

Next was Bad Wimpken which attracted me because of the weird name. You have to drive as if you are going to Heidelburg because it doesn't appear on the map. All of a sudden you see this spectacular view of a town looming down on you from the top of a big hill. That's Bad Wimpken. It was a hillier town with all old houses and an imposing church with many towers. We stopped for beers and I wish I'd eaten there because the people sitting next to us had the best looking pasta. Unfortunately, we left after I spilled beer all down the front of me. I'd been mid-sip when you guessed it a wasp flew right into my face. I swear to God I'm going to come up with a bee-kill spray.

The last stop was Heidelburg which was much bigger. You can take a funicular to the top of the mountain for a fantastic view (roundtrip is 12 Euro each). We were stupid since you can drive up there but we didn't think about that until we'd already bought our tickets! You can also tour the castle and the smaller medieval town halfway up the hill but my friend was castled-out so we returned to the main town area for some real food. We ate at a little restaurant called Thanner that was okay and then drove the remainder of the way to the Frankfurt airport to drop off the car.

We took the S Bahn to Messe. When we arrived we were a little weirded out because it felt like we were on the outskirts of town in the industrial area, a strange place for a hostel?! From the Messe station you can look down from the platform and you will see Meininger Hotel. When I booked it I thought it was a hostel but from the outside it looks much more like a hotel. The downstairs area did have more of a hostel feel with a small bar, reception and lounges occupied by people using the free Wifi. When they gave us a city map we realized that yes we were definitely on the outskirts of town. Why did I pick this hostel? Weird. Even weirder was that they had run out of room keys so they had to escort us to our room. My friend was leaving the next morning so we went to bed around midnight. I need to get the heck out of Frankfurt tomorrow. It is LAME!