Surf’s Up!

by Karen

On our way to the Bavarian National Museum (which is pretty neat, with lots of art from the middle ages to the 1800s), we walked by the English Garden, one of the largest recreational parks in Munich.

As we crossed a bridge, we noticed a sizeable crowd gathered on the railing, looking down at the river. We decided to see what to commotion was about, and were rewarded with probably one of the coolest things we’ve seen in Munich:
20131226-191928.jpgSurfers!
20131226-191945.jpgSurfing on a river!

The Eisbach River in the English Garden is a very popular spot for surfers. If you follow the river downstream, you’ll come across several spots where the river crests into waves. The interesting thing is that the government allows it, even posting signs next to the river warning surfers of the concrete barriers underneath the surface.
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The surfers wait in line and wait for each other to fail before they hop on their surfboards. Because the current flows at a constant (very fast) speed, there is hardly any downtime and no need to wait for a wave to rise, when compared to ocean surfing.

So if you ever visit land-locked Munich and have a great urge to catch some waves, here would be a great spot!
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Hofbräuhaus & Beer

by Karen

Hofbräu (HB) is one of six local breweries remaining in Munich today. They had the distinction of being the official royal brewery of the old dukes of Bavaria.
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HB Haus is the former site of their brewery, now turned into a beer hall, and is the most famous in all of Munich. Beer is served in 1-liter mugs–and that’s just for one person!
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When we went there, it felt like we were stepping into a giant banquet hall you’d typically see in medieval-type movies, with customers shouting, singing, dancing, eating bratwursts, and chugging beer. The atmosphere was incredibly festive, with a live polka band playing traditional Bavarian music (even some of the locals sang along). Sure, it was very touristy, but everyone was having a good time, so we decided to have out Christmas dinner there. It’s definitely one of those places where you don’t really come for the food, but you stay for the atmosphere. We ended up getting a Bavarian meatloaf (it’s like eating a giant slice of Vienna sausages from a can) and Alpine Ox Goulash (ehhhhhh).
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Some random facts we learned about beer from out tour guide (hope they are true):

In the past, beer was brewed by either monks or women. Women would add random stuff into the beer, like vegetables, herbs, etc. in order to make the beer taste more palatable. One day, opium was added to the beer, causing death by consumption. As a result, Bavaria passed the Beer Purity Law, which states that beer can only be made of three ingredients: barley, hops, and water (later, wheat and yeast were added to the list). The law is still in effect to this day.

Germany is the #3 consumer of beer in the world, after Czech Republic and Ireland (Czechs drink 180 liters of beer per person per year). However, if you take the whole state of Bavaria, and remove it from Germany, then Germany would fall down to #27, whereas Bavaria would become #1. On average, Bavarians drink 270 liters of beer per person per year.

Munich’s population is around 1.7 million. During Oktoberfest, the population grows to 7 million–and a majority of them are Australians (there is even a specific weekend of the festival allocated for them).

When the Swedish army invaded Bavaria, they held Munich for a ransom of 300,000 pieces of gold. Citizens only managed to cough up 180,000 pieces. The rest of it was paid in beer (“liquid gold”).

Bavarians really do love their beer! (Unfortunately I can’t stand it and don’t drink it, but apple soda is a great alternative for me!)
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An unexpected shrine in Munich

by Karen

While aimlessly walking around Munich’s deserted streets at 6pm (it’s Christmas Eve), we stumbled across a park and saw some statues. We noticed one of the statues had votives, photos, and letters strewn across it, so we assumed it must either be a memorial to someone who died here, or something for Jesus’s birthday.

Upon closer inspection…

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Yup, a shrine to the King of Pop himself. On top of a monument to a Bavarian musician from 500 years ago. Apparently this is a fan-made shrine not supported by city officials. To discourage fans from building on top of the statue and to sabotage the shrine, some city residents dump birdseed around the memorial to get pigeons to poop around it.

You can find this in Promenadeplatz in front of the Bayerischer Hof hotel. Apparently MJ stayed here a lot while in town.

More Info: http://www.thelocal.de/20100409/26447

Florence Photo Dump

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Florence Photo Dump

Lots of great art, and some of the best food in Italy

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Pisa & Lucca Daytrip

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Pisa & Lucca Daytrip (a.k.a. “How many silly/dumb photos can we take at the Leaning Tower?”)

Pisa & Lucca are neighboring towns about an hour away from Florence by train. Pisa is well-known for its tower (we didn’t climb up), but there are several buildings in the area with beautiful medieval & gothic architecture. Lucca is a cute little walled-in medieval town swarmed by local tourists doing their Christmas shopping.

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Gelato in Rome

by Karen
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So after eating gelato every single day for the past 14 days at various places across the city, here are our top 3 choices for best gelato in Rome.

Note that we only ordered small cones in all stores (“piccolo coni“), which is actually more than enough! Small cones always include 2 scoops (mix-&-match, or one flavor), and optional whipped cream, sometimes homemade (just ask for “con panna“).


GROM

Location: corner of Piazza Navona
Open til: 11pm
Number of times visited: 3 (in one day!)
Price: 2.50€
Flavors tried: Meringata al Pistachio, Ricotta e Fichi, Pere, Zabaione, Crema di Grom

Best pistachio ice cream I’ve ever had anywhere, period. If you combine it with the ricotta & fig flavor, EVEN BETTER.

Note that I’m only judging this place on the basis of that (perfect) flavor combo. The other flavors were ok, I didn’t like their Zabaione, which is wine-flavored (Mark loved it), but I did enjoy their Pear, which tasted and felt like pear puree in gelato form.

Also, how can you not like the name? GROM. Sounds like a gelato place that Conan the Barbarian would open after retiring from…doing barbarian things.

It is an Italian chain, though it seems to be pretty popular amongst the locals. (Fortunately for us, there is also a branch in Florence!)
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Come il Latte

Location: Via Spaventa 26 (near Repubblica Metro A stop)
Open: Til 11pm
Number of times visited: 3
Price: 2.20€
Flavors tried: too many to remember

This is Mark’s favorite, and I’m a big fan of it as well, and I think it’s the best value out of all the gelato places we’ve tried. It’s also the only one on this list that isn’t a chain.

For 2.20€, you get:
– a small cone with 3 scoops (can be all different flavors, and they are definitely not small!)
– white or dark chocolate fondue
– a wafer
– your choice of regular or vanilla homemade whipped cream
– more chocolate drizzle

Come il Latte is a few blocks from the Santa Maria della Vittoria church, which houses the famous Ecstacy of Saint Teresa sculpture by Bernini. It’s a bit off the tourist path (at least in the winter), hidden amongst small side streets in a quiet corner. They are open late, which is great if you’re traveling from across town just to get there.

They have a wide variety of flavors, and we can only assume that they are all good. My go-to flavor was the Mascarpone e Gentili, and their Chestnut is pretty damn good. Once you choose your flavor, you get a choice of having your cone showered in white or dark chocolate. This is awesome, because the chocolate will sit inside your cone as you eat your gelato. Once you start eating your cone, chocolate just starts spilling out–the best part is that it’s still warm!
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Gelarmony

Location: Via Marcantonio Colonna, 34 (near Lepanto Metro A stop)
Open: Til 11pm
Number of times visited: 4
Price: 1.80€
Flavors tried: Ricotta & eclair, strawberry, pistachio, lemon cake, etc.

If you are near the Vatican or visiting the VIGAMUS Video Game Museum, this gelato place is worth visiting. I fell in love with their strawberry and the ricotta & eclair (which somehow tastes like a cinnamon gingerbread cookie, but I can overlook this misnomer). Also, this is one of the cheaper gelato places we’ve seen. I was actually surprised to find out that this was a global chain, with branches in Hawaii, Vancouver, Beijing, and San Diego(!!).
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For the record, here is a list of other places we’ve tried. They were good, but not as memorable as the ones we’ve mentioned earlier.

– Frigidarium (Trastevere)
– Dei Gracchi (Vatican-area, near Lepanto Metro A stop)
– Cremi (Trastevere)
– Salaria (a bit out of the way, take a tram from Villa Borghese or Policlinico Metro B stop)
– San Crispino (near Pantheon)
– Il Gelatone (near Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument)
– Fatamorgana (Trastevere)

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Rome Photo Dump

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Photo dump!

Rome is an awesome city, there is just so much history packed into one place. We’ve felt like our entire trip (the history of all the places we’ve been to) has been based around the rise and fall of the Roman empire. It’s surreal and feels like a completely separate dimension, but nope, it actually happened here!

This past week we’ve been to ruins, catacombs, more churches (I don’t think I can get sick of those), museums, and walked through medieval streets. Bernini is everywhere! We watched an opera rehearsal and a Baroque concert. And we found our favorite gelato place.

We’ll try and write more blog posts when we can!

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