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Posts Tagged ‘munich’

I am an interweb bandit

Well, it’s been a while. Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The last two weekends I was in Munich, and then Paris. They were both excellent trips, to admittedly excellent destinations.

I’m not even sure what the “best thing” about the Munich trip was: finally doing all the tourist stuff, seeing Gretchen, or just being back in Bavaria. I arrived via a few hours in Regensburg. When I left Regensburg a little over a year ago, I didn’t think I would ever see it again and of course that lead to a lot of musing about the quirks of life. I stopped by a few old haunts to gawk and take pictures- Peaches, Dibo, and even a few grocery stores. After one of those long deliberations that end with a “duh”, I decided to have dinner at the Indian place on Maximillianstrasse, which was just a great decision. At one point during the day, with my legs getting tired, I almost turned around to go “home” to Goldener Turm and it was a little bit painful to realize how long ago it all was. I saw one of my old professors, but it took a moment to register and it was too late to say anything.

Upon arriving in Munich, I had just enough time to buy a dirndl (I know!), get lost, check into my hostel, and meet Kevin for my first legitimate trip to the Hofbrauhaus. Kevin was staying with his father’s friend’s daughter and I went with them and the daughter’s group from a summer program at LMU. We ate in a little restaurant above and behind the Bierhall, so it was fairly pleasant. Those keeping score will notice two dinners. I was tricked!

On Saturday I got up extremely early to go to the flea market in the Olympia Stadion (aka the best flea market ever!) only to discover that it was cancelled due to a religious event at the stadium. Eventually Stephanie and Gretchen called me to “meet up” about 15 minutes apart, so we wasted some time on that, but then we walked up the Alter Peter and got Obatzda and baguettes in the Viktualienmarkt, so all was well. Then we all (plus Gretchen’s boyfriend) walked up to the Chinesischer Turm in the Englischer Garten, which led past a few cool buildings and monuments that I never knew about. We were able to enter the Garten right where the surfers are in the Eisbach. Florian had never seen them before, even though he’s from Bavaria. We went our separate ways at the biergarten, and Stephanie and I stayed and had a water and a beer, respectively. I got a Mass (liter) of beer for no other reason than I was hot and thirsty and it was awesome. I guess probably about this time Stephanie decided she wanted to go to the dirndl store, and so we bolted across town but were too late. But then, Stephanie, being more inquisitive or more inclined to exercise, or both, wanted to walk around a little bit. Then I pulled a “look, green space” and we walked down this alley to discover a wide open field with a temporary fence around it and a few large tents on it. So then of course I went, “Oh. My. God. I think it’s the Wies’n.” Theresienwiesen, aka the “Wies’n”, is where Oktoberfest happens. And we were indeed at the Wies’n. I did a little bit of a hand-flappy thing, and then we walked up to where there is a GIANT statue of a personification of Bavaria surrounded by a Hellenic-type-building on three sides. That was pretty cool too. We later learned that it’s the Ruhmeshalle, which is a lot like Walhalla, having built by Leo von Klenze under the eye of Ludwig I to honor great Germans. Later we met Kevin and the other sister at the Augustiner Keller on Neuhauserstrasse (my choice) because Augustiner has the best Helles in Munich.

On Sunday Stephanie went to Neuschwanstein and I went to the Alte and Neue Pinakotheke, two famous art museums across the street from one another. Entry was only 1 Euro because it was a Sunday. The most famous painting there is the self-portrait of Albrecht Durer, but there are just a TON of amazing paintings. I was totally “that guy” who takes pictures of paintings in the museum. The Alte Pinakothek had amazing still lifes, as well as paintings by this guy Adam Elsheimer, which featured scenes “lit” only by a candle but still in enormous detail. I was impressed. I don’t, however, recommend going to the museums one right after the other. Oh, they also had a portrait of Goethe that has adorned many of my German texts.

I then went to the University area to see the Ludwigskirche and look for cheap food. The Ludwigskirche was breathtaking, but completely covered on the interior in scaffolding, which was nothing short of tragic. Not finding much appetizing food, I headed for the Viktualienmarkt, forgetting that it would be closed on Sunday. So I wandered, aimless and cranky, through the streets around Marienplatz. Salvation came, as it so often does, in the form of beer. I looked up and spotted the Schneider Weisse “Weisses Brauhaus”. Schneiderweisse makes, hands down, the best wheat beer in Bavaria. So I was all, purse be damned, I want a Schneider Weisse. So I had a Schneider Weisse and spinach spaetzle in cream sauce with champignons. It was heavenly. Heavenly!

Paris

Despite my secret suspicions that it was overrated, and not-so-secret fears that everyone hated Americans, Paris was wonderful. Here is how I planned for my trip: I got all the logistics for going to Normandy in order, and then just read food blogs and “Top 10” lists about Parisian food. I had a fifteen item list of “things to do” and the Eiffel Tower was not on it. The first stop after the hostel was Laduree, supposedly the best macarons in Paris, plus highly recommended croissants. Stephanie and I each got a croissant and a couple of macarons. I got chocolate and caramel. The croissant was delicious, and crispy, though it did not permanently alter my idea of what a good croissant is. The chocolate macaroon was good, obviously, though I thought it had too much filling and was a little fudgy for something supposedly delicate. But the caramel one. Oh the caramel one. I wanted to weep. It was so good. The filling was pure, butter caramel. Good lord. On our way to get the macarons, we rounded a corner and there was the Eiffel tower, and we both kind of made awkward squeaking noises.

Then we just started walking. We walked to the Champs Elysees and saw the Arc de Triomphe, which was pretty neat, though I still don’t know which victory/ies it references. Then we went looking for lunch, turned down a lot of places that weren’t perfect, and then got so tired and cranky that we settled for something imperfect anyway- an Italian restaurant. I got a warm goat cheese salad with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts, yay! I made a huge mess eating it, but oh well. Stephanie, who is a vegetarian, ordered a pasta dish that came with a hamsicle. That is, prosciutto wrapped around one end of a thin breadstick. I gawked, then panicked that she’d try to send it back, then was thrilled/relieved when she gave it to me. Free pig!

At this point, we were relatively close to the Eiffel Tower, so we sauntered over there, approaching via the Palais de Chaillot, which until then, we didn’t know was a great place to photograph the Eiffel Tower from. Then we went up to the tower and did some recon about times when the line might be shorter (Answer: the stairs-only line 15 minutes before they open). Then I made Stephanie go to a chocolate shop and she made me go to something called the “American Cathedral,” which is randomly just an American church that happens to be in France. It was pretty on the inside, though, and had this great neo-gothic carving that was very similar to what you’d see in any cathedral, but then instead of shepherds or angels holding up the buttresses, it was WWI soldiers. It was beautiful. Incidentally, the chocolatier was Michel Chaudun, and I got one caramel mousse and four peanut-butter-sesame-truffle chocolates.

With “chocolates” crossed off the list, I then started the forced march to the second most important food stop on my list: Le Grande Epicerie. It’s a grocery store in the vein of Russo’s/the Wellesley Roche Bros./Julius Meindl/Zabar’s- BUT IT’S IN PARIS OMG! It was pretty great. I got a tomato/pesto/mozzarella salad, and of course cheese. In fact, I walked up to the cheese counter, and saw that they had camembert soaked in/brushed with Calvados, which I didn’t know a normal person could even GET. So I got half a wheel and ran around the store squealing. This is the part where I tell you I am not exaggerating. With these goodies, we went back to the hostel and had dinner in the common room and watched the Olympics. We are in Olympic withdrawal here in Ludwigshafen without a TV.

The next morning, because Stephanie and I are excellent travel buddies, I went to Normandy and she went to Versailles. My train went directly from Paris to Bayeux, one of the first cities in France liberated in 1944, the closest rail stop to Omaha Beach, and home of the Bayeux tapestry, which illustrates the Battle of Hastings. Normandy is beautiful in the way that I imagine people imagine France to be, green, rolling hills and antique-looking stone houses with stone walls and big barns. The 3.10 I paid to get from the Bayeux train station to the American Cemetery was worth it for the bus ride alone. The cemetery is beautiful and very well kept. Surprisingly, most of the tourists there were French rather than American. The dollar must be pretty weak, because there were almost no Americans there. I think it wouldn’t have been so sad if it weren’t so pretty. It’s hard to think about the Americans and Brits and Canadians who showed up to storm those beaches to liberate a country they didn’t owe anything to, not because they were going to get oil out of it (for instance) but simply because the French needed help. One of the exhibits in the visitors’ center used the work “audacity” to describe the invasion, which seems quite apt. I don’t know why anyone thought they could storm that beach, but they tried and they succeeded. It was a gorgeous day just weatherwise, but wow, Omaha beach was about the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I walked down and put my toes in the water and everything, the water is really blue. Supposedly (I think, according to symbols) you can still see some of the caissons they put in when they built the artificial harbor. Because the busses were on a holiday schedule, I couldn’t spend as long there as I wanted to. I had about 45 minutes to go to the “Battle of Normandy” museum in Bayeux, but no time to see the tapestry. Bayeux is just going to have to go on the “Well, I’ll just have to make it my business to go back” list.

On Saturday we went up the Eiffel Tower at 9 am, all the way to the top, even though I freaked out on the way to the second level. It’s a lot taller than it seems, even from the base. Eventually we elbowed our way down to meet Kevin, Rob and Jim at Notre Dame. Being the veteran European travelers that we are, we took one look at the enormous line outside the cathedral, and simultaneously thought to ourselves: “I know what the inside of a cathedral looks like.” The decision to move on barely had to be confirmed verbally.

It was around then that I started a forced march to a bakery I had read about in David Lebovitz’ “10 Things You Must Do in Paris” blog entry. It’s called “Eric Kayser” and supposedly has the best Pain au Cereal in Paris. I wouldn’t argue with that assessment. In addition to the baguette, everyone got sandwiches for a proper lunch. Mine was basically a sesame baguette with a wheel’s worth of brie inside. It was great. Then we attempted to go to the catacombs (closed!) and Kevin started a forced march of his own. Granted that GPS saved our asses big time in Heidelberg, it is not that great for searching out tourist attractions. We may or may not have done one of those “I don’t see it yet…let’s keep walking…we can’t be on street X, that’s on the other side…how can we have missed it…Oh. That was it?” We also discussed at length which places were “in Ratatouille.”

After a second failed attempt at accessing a Pierre Herme macaron, we went for dinner at a raclette restaurant, which frankly sucked. But hopefully we can try again in Zurich in two weeks. Of course there was a post-dinner “nighttime” Eiffel Tower visit- very fancy. It’s remarkable how blue they can make that thing with lights, considering that it is solidly brown in real life. It also does a little sparkly light show.

And that was the end of Saturday with one exception. At 3 am there came a knocking on the door of the hostel room that Stephanie and I were sharing with two other (British) girls. I had a heart attack, and then I ignored it, assuming that it would go away. It wasn’t for me or Stephanie, and the other girls weren’t waking up, so I figured it was not my problem. So I went back to sleep. For thirty seconds, before the knocking got louder. Once again freaked out, I called reception from the little phone in the room, intending to say something along the lines of “Um, bon nuit, we’re about to be murdered in room 402, merci”, and of course they didn’t pick up. So not knowing what else to do, I climbed down from the top bunk, wedged my foot between the door and the floor and opened the door a crack…

“Pleeeeeease, give me back my sunglasses!”

Long story short, some enormous loser had lent his 170 Euro sunglasses to a stranger he’d met in a hostel, aka the girl sleeping in our room. He knew she was leaving on Sunday and “didn’t want to wake up early” to get the glasses before she left. So she cussed him out for a while, found his glasses, sent him away, and apologized to Stephanie and I, to which I said, “whatever, I’m just thrilled he wasn’t a murderer….zzzzzzzzzz.”

Sunday we ditched the boyfolk and took a brief trip to the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre (we were positively accosted by “dirt merchants” as Stephanie put it). It’s a nice building but it’s honestly nicer as an element of the horizon. Then we zoomed back to the catacombs where we waited in line for an hour, but didn’t mind because CATACOMBS!!! The catacombs were a little bit “meh”, saved only by the fact that there were, as promised, big piles of bones. But they were only neatly stacked, not artfully arranged like cooler catacombs. The result was that basically every inch of the place looked the same (excluding the half-mile “entrance hallway” that was just a plain, blank hall). There were a few informational signs, but it was unclear what they were indicating when they addressed an element of the room, and were mostly about mine inspection (?). The tour was capped off with two chambers each bearing a label reading something like this: “This is a cloche (or some C word). It is where collapses occur. It is very easy for collapses to occur in places like this because…” and I missed the rest because by that point I was literally off and running. The entrance is a spiral staircase that just. Keeps. Going. and it did not escape my notice that in the case of an earthquake, we would be extremely, extremely dead. So by the end, I was ready to see the sun. I sprinted up what I guess was about 20 vertical meters of spiral staircase. Then, they check your bags to make sure you haven’t stolen bones! Ah, Paree…

Pictures:

Crap, forgot the Normandy photos. Give me a moment.

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