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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Christmas Markets

by Karen

Christmas markets are very popular in Europe, traditionally run since the middle ages. They are essentially large pop-up flea markets with many vendors selling Christmas items (ornaments, stocking stuffers, handicrafts, etc.) and seasonal foods, ESPECIALLY holiday drinks.

One of the primary reasons for us wanting to visit Europe in the winter was because we wanted to experience these markets. In fact, we structured our entire itinerary to ensure that we’d be in Germany during the holiday season. (With dozens of revisions, doubts, panicked moments, and backup plans, I think we did ok!)

We visited some friends in Strasbourg (a small city on the French/German border) who showed us around town and gave us our first real glimpse of a Christmas market.

At these markets, many vendors will sell drinks, the most popular being a hot, mulled wine called glühwein (I preferred the taste of the non-alcoholic version, “kinderpunsch”). When you pay for the drink, you also pay a small deposit fee for the cup, usually a mug with decorations or the name of the specific market plastered on it. If you choose to keep the cup, you lose the deposit, but get a neat souvenir. Otherwise you can return the cup to the booth and get your money back.

In terms of food, you can find lots of pretzels, cookies, bratwursts, cured meats, cheeses, waffles, roasted chestnuts, nougats, and candies. In Strasbourg, we found a vendor selling excellent smoked duck meat.

Some photos of various Christmas markets in Strasbourg, Alsace region villages, Rothenburg, and Munich.

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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

Christmas Lodgings in Munich, Germany

English: Christmas market at Munich

English: Christmas market at Munich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our entire trip is pretty much based around being in Germany for Christmas, since we really want to experience German Christmas markets. Being such a major holiday, we figured we needed to start early and look for housing. As of yesterday, Munich was already 49% booked for Christmas week.

Some of the neighborhoods we wanted to check out were Schwabing, Haidhausen, Neuhausen, and Isarvorstadt. Schwabing is where most of the action happens, and is also the most expensive. But luckily we found a hostel right next to the Hauptbahnhof (Hbf—“central station”), which is their major transportation hub, hence easy access to the entire city.

We also noticed that hostel rates shoot up 2-3x on weekends, and this is true for a lot of hostels. For example, a room costing 30€ during the week can cost 70€ on weekends. Thus, we plan to stay in hostels Sun-Thurs, and do AirBnB for Fri-Sat (since that seems to be a more consistent flat rate). This allows us to see different parts of the city, and it’s nice to meet different people along the way. Because we are in Bavaria for approx. two weeks without a solid plan of where to go, we figured it might also be a good idea to look up castles or monasteries in the area where we can spend the night.

And this is the hostel we ended up booking:
http://www.euro-youth-hotel.de/

Schengen Visa

Starting my first entry in this travel journal. We’ve come a long way since planning the start of our adventure!

Most recently, Mark got approved for his Schengen visa. The process was a bit nerve-wracking, but in actuality the interview was the easiest part. The hardest part was coming up with the itinerary (121 days of travel!), booking 18 hotels, and submitting 5 flights, 11 trains, and 2 buses as part of our journey. I had learned very late that the Schengen visa is only valid for the number of days you request. Earlier, for simplicity’s sake, I had stated that we would only be in Germany for 2 weeks, assuming Mark would automatically get a 90-day visa. Wrong! Hence I scrambled to complete our full itinerary. We also had to scramble to get traveler’s insurance, as Mark’s health insurance during sabbatical would not cover us abroad.

Getting the Schengen visa was a huge weight off our shoulders, and now we can focus on getting him that UK visa. We have to get biometric fingerprints next week and mail it off to the embassy in NYC. You’d think that a country as popular as the UK would have consulates all around the US, right?

We are still awaiting our background check records from the FBI. I had foolishly written a cashier’s check to the Dept. of Treasury instead of the Treasurer of the US. Hope that doesn’t cause a huge delay in processing…