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:
20131226-191945.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.
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!


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.
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!
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).

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!)

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…




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:

Florence Photo Dump

via our Facebook page:

Florence Photo Dump

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


VIGAMUS – Rome’s neat little video game museum

by Karen

After spending a whole week walking amongst ruins, it was time for a change of pace. We’d heard that there was a video game museum in Rome after looking up Groupons earlier this year. We missed the sale, but still thought it would be fun to go and check out the place.

Onward, to VIGAMUS!
For those interested, the closest Metro station is Lepanto, close to the Vatican. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from the station. VIGAMUS is located in the basement of a non-descript office building, but fortunately there was a small banner outside the front door. You’ll also be greeted by a life-sized statue of Katniss Everdeen Lara Croft in the reception area.
Admission is 8€ per person, and includes unlimited usage of their “interactive areas” (i.e., console & arcade setups), and there is no time limit. They do close at 8pm though. You also get a free membership card that grants you reduced admission for future visits as well as discounts in their store.

The museum is dedicated to the history of videogames, from the 1960s to early 1980s. It has neat and interesting displays about how videogames started and became popular before, during, and after the crash.
What is interesting is that the exhibits also slightly focuses on European contributions to the rise of video games in the 70s-80s. Most of the time you hear of American or Japanese contributions, but who knew that the British also produced a console to rival the Commodore 64? (I didn’t, at least!) Many consoles and games are also displayed throughout the hall.
It doesn’t dwell too much upon modern gaming and systems (since that is substantially covered nowadays by plenty of sources), but they do have display cases with paraphernalia donated by several game studios worldwide.
Currently, there is an exhibit sponsored by Ubisoft for Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and how it relates to actual world history. There is also an art exhibit featuring sketches and drawings from Grasshopper Manufacture’s various games.
The biggest highlight for me was the Oculus Rift room. There were several stations set up for people to try the Rift, each with a different demo. I was worried about getting motion sickness, so I skipped the roller coaster demo and opted for the Breakout-ish game demo instead. It was pretty fun, I wish I had more time experimenting with it.
All in all, if you like video games, their history, and want a small break from ancient ruins and Baroque architecture, this museum is a nice change of pace. We spent 1.5 hours there, and felt rushed, I think another hour would’ve made it even more enjoyable. Although it depends on how much time you’d want to devote to the “interactive areas”. They were actually decently-sized rooms, I had counted 5 of them with various console setups and arcade cabinets.

Cats of Ephesus

by Karen

I’m starting to sense that there are large numbers of stray cats all along the Mediterranean. In contrast to the ones I’ve seen in Morocco, the strays in Italy and Turkey are big! They are very well-fed and well taken care of. The ones in Ephesus are incredibly smart as well, they know the exact pillar or podium to stand on in order to get your attention, and they all seem to magically pose for your photos. In Dubrovnik, we saw two people in different areas feed stray cats with large cans of meat from a market.







Cats of Morocco

by Karen

There are a lot of stray cats in Morocco. A LOT. Imagine going to New York City and replacing all mice and rats on the streets with cats.

Why so many cats? One of our guides said that stray cats were considered “community cats,” and that some were well-fed and “watched over” by people in the neighborhood (not directly taken care of). The cats mainly hunt rats and mice for sport, but prefer eating leftover scraps from litter. Apparently the cats are less prone to rabies than dogs, which is why you very rarely see stray dogs (or dogs in general) in Morocco, since many are killed off. The cats peacefully coexist with people, never shy away, and somehow know their boundaries.

There were many cats of all shapes and sizes, some bony and mangy, others quite fat. A rescue shelter would have a field day. It’s only a matter of time before the cats band together and form an army and take over the country from its human overlords (like pigeons in America).

Look, but don’t touch!