Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Castles in Bavaria

I wasn't quite sure what Munich had to offer when I decided to tag along on J's work trip, but I was pretty stoked to find out that Bavaria is castle country! I never say no to castles, and I booked myself on a bus tour to see Linderhof Castle, the village of Oberammergau, and the mother of them all, Neuschwanstein Castle.

I thought I woke up in plenty of time to get to the meeting point at Hauptbahnhof, but I didn't realise that there was a transport strike that had started that morning. The concierge informed me that it would be impossible to get a cab with the strike combined with the rainy weather, so I decided to chance it by heading to the rail station to see if any trains were running. 

I ran into Marienplatz station and managed to buy a ticket, but it all went downhill from there. The station is positively ginormous, and I couldn't find any signs anywhere directing me to the right platform. Luckily, a very kind man took pity on me and asked me if I was lost. He directed me to the proper platform and I hopped on a train and got off at Hauptbahnhof.

I had even more trouble this time, because it can be quite difficult to orient yourself indoors, especially since Hauptbahnhof is even bigger than Marienplatz station. I just followed the exit signs and prayed that I would pop out of the right exit. Of course I didn't so I got to wander about the streets until I finally arrived at the right exit barely in the nick of time. I was a sweaty, panicky mess by the time I got there, and it turned out that I needn't have freaked out so much since more than a few people turned up late due to the strike. Sigh.

We finally got going on our epic bus adventure with our first destination being Linderhof Castle. It was built by Mad King Ludwig, and it's billed as a mini-Versailles. The king was a major francophile, and he built the castle in the Baroque and Rococo fashion in homage to King Louis XIV. You can view the palace by guided tour only, and photos are strictly forbidden. Sad. But believe me when I tell you that the place is dripping in gilt and fleur-de-lis and swans.

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King Ludwig didn't much like people so he had this dining table that would disappear into the floor and drop down into the kitchen. The servants would set the table and then crank it back up so it would magically appear back in Ludwig's dining room, laden with food and flowers. I honestly don't think that idea is half bad. Most other castles I've visited had their kitchens very far away from their dining hall, which meant that most of the food would be cold by the time it finally arrived. Quite clever, this king.

The stop was a short one, which meant that we didn't have much time to explore the grounds after the tour. I was a bit bummed out by that, but the pouring rain meant that most people were glad to climb back into the bus rather than wander around outdoors.

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Our next stop was another quick one at Oberammergau, a very cute village that's famous for its painted houses and the Passion Play. The play is performed every ten years and all the villagers act in the play. 

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It was raining buckets and getting downright freezing so a lot of people opted to just stay on the bus while the sillier of us climbed off and ran around town. We had to be quick about it, but I got to see a fair share of the beautiful painted houses and the carved woodwork that the area is also famous for. 

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It wasn't nearly enough time to properly see the town, but it was still better than nothing. Everyone was muttering under their breath about how cold they were, and the bus rolled out of town and on our way to Neuschwanstein. I was busy reading my guidebook as our tour guide chuckled about the snow over the PA system. I looked out the window, and my eyes nearly fell out of my head to see that it was snowing! I was freezing, but I had bundled up and brought gloves and I felt sorry for some people who had showed up in a t-shirt and shorts! 

We finally arrived at Neuschwanstein safely in spite of the snow, and the weather had returned to freezing rain by the time we unloaded from the bus. Everyone gets dropped off in the small village at the base, and I popped into a hotel bistro to grab a very crappy and expensive sandwich and wolfed it down while I figured out how I would get up to the top of the mountain. I didn't want to ride the horse carriage, since I feel bad for the poor horses, and the queue for the minibus was ridiculously long. I opted to just hike my way up on my own, and I decided to go to Mariensbruck first, the bridge overlooking Neuschwanstein castle, for the epic view and then head down to the castle for the guided tour. 

I was frigid with cold at the beginning of my hike, but I started shedding layers as I warmed up throughout my hike. It took a good forty minutes and more than a few horses passed me by. I was so glad J wasn't with me. He would've kicked my butt for not just waiting for the minibus! I was pretty tired by the time I got to Mariensbruck, but the view was definitely worth it. The cold weather made for a pretty atmospheric view with the castle sitting in a nest of clouds.

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I enjoyed the view for a bit and then started making my way down to the castle itself. Along the way, I got some great views of Hohenswangau castle.

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And of Neuschwanstein as well.

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I made it to the castle in plenty of time for my guided tour to start, and I had a chance to take a look around the exterior of the castle before heading inside, where photography is forbidden.

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Unfortunately, King Ludwig never got the chance to finish this castle, so there's not much to see inside since only a handful of rooms were ever completed. It's still worth taking a look, but I think the real beauty of the castle is on the outside. 

I hiked back down into the village, where I got one last look at Neuschwanstein.

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I had a few minutes to kill before our bus was scheduled to leave so I popped into a nearby souvenir store and loaded up on some uniquely German Christmas ornaments.

We had a long ride ahead of us back to Munich, and I think I must've nodded off a few times. I was starving and tired by the time our bus pulled up to our drop off point, and I trudged back to the hotel in the rain. It was an epic day of sightseeing but the weather was so completely miserable the entire time that I was exhausted and chilled to the bone by the time I got back to my room. I had never been so glad to get my wet things off, showered, and tucked into bed in my warm pyjamas. I ordered room service, pretty much licked the plate clean, and that was all she wrote. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Beer and Sausages in Munich

J had to make a quick trip out to Munich for work so I decided to take advantage of the free hotel room and tag along. He was staying for less than twenty four hours, but I decided to extend my trip to three days so that I could make a proper visit of the city.

We both had very early flights, and I discovered that it's all business people flying first thing on a Tuesday morning. Of course, I lucked out sitting next to the only two kids on the entire flight. They were adorable, but a bit too loud for me to get the nap I was planning on. Them's the breaks.

J's work is pretty awesome, and they arranged a ride for me to the hotel, and I prayed that the room would be ready so I could take a nap. Nope. J and his colleagues had gone straight to the office from the airport, and we decided to meet up at the world famous Hofbräuhaus for lunch.

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I arrived before they did and got hassled by a very sweet three year old boy who decided to latch on to me. He wouldn't leave me alone despite his parents' pleading, and I very awkwardly extricated myself before he decided I was suitable for climbing. I decided to slip inside and explore the building. The beer hall is on the ground floor with a posh restaurant on the first floor. The top floor is a giant dining hall, complete with long trestle tables and a stage for an oompa band or two.  I don't think I was actually supposed to enter the hall on the top floor, but the people using it were Asian and I guess I fit in? In any case, no one said anything as I walked around and took a gander or two.

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The main beer hall on the ground floor was beyond chaotic! We couldn't find each other, and the place was boiling hot from all the heaving bodies.

We decided to meet up at the restaurant across the street, the Bayern Ayinger, and it was a good thing we did. The food was fantastic, albeit meat intensive, and we all got treated to the requisite pretzel basket. I tried a Radler, a beer mixed with lemon soda, which was better than I expected!


J and co left for the office, and I began my work as a tourist. The weather was a bit chilly, but I warmed up as I made my way to the heart of the city at Marienplatz. You can see the New Town Hall, the Old Town Hall, and St. Peter's Church all from one spot. Munich was bombed during the war, so there is a slightly jarring juxtaposition between the old and new. Fortunately, Munich decided to rebuild much of its city in the old style so the city retains much of its original flair and flavour.

The Rathaus (New Town Hall) was pretty stellar to look at!

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The Old Town Hall isn't bad to look at either. My guidebook described it as Disney-esque, but I'm not sure I agree.

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I especially liked the detail on the zodiac clock mounted on the tower! It's aries o'clock!

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The weather made good on its threats of rain, so I ducked into St. Peter's Church to check out the interior.

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There was very fanciful and pretty art installation of white paper birds floating over the pews. You don't often see art installations in churches, but I found out that Munich is a very artsy city, and there's loads of such installations dotting the city streets and plazas.

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I walked a short distance to the nearby Viktualienmarket, a local outdoor food market, and I had a great time browsing the stalls. The pole with the figures is located in the centre of the market represents the different market stalls, including the beer, of course.

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I had never seen so much white asparagus in my whole life! Pretty much every fruit and veg stall was selling it.



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It began to rain in earnest and since my umbrella was stowed away in my luggage back at the hotel, I decided to pack it in and finally take that nap I had been lusting after. 

It took a bit of wandering about, but I finally found myself back at the hotel. I peeled off my soaking wet clothes and passed out for an hour or so. I felt loads better after my nap and my clothes had dried, so I decided to head back out into the city, even though most of the sights and shops had closed for the day. 

I ended up walking around the major shopping streets just to see what the fuss was all about, and it didn't matter that the stores were shut since Chanel isn't exactly in my budget! The kind of terrible thing about globalisation is that shopping abroad is so boring because it's just like shopping at home. It's the same chain stores selling the same things, the only thing that's different is the currency.

I made my way to the Odeonplatz, which was the site of Hitler's beer hall putsch, and Hitler had put up a monument there for his first joiners when he came into power.

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Everyone was required to salute the monument so the clever citizens used a nearby street, Viscardigasse, to detour around the monument. That's a pretty good reason for a street to exist.



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There wasn't much else to look at and it started to get dark so I decided to return to the hotel. I popped into a grocery store on the way and picked up some snacks for the following day. One of my favourite things to do in a foreign city is to check out the grocery stores and pharmacies. I know it's weird, but I love seeing all the different packaging and food items and what the locals really buy on a daily basis.

Anyway, I showered and relaxed until J finally returned to the hotel late in the evening. He had spent all day at the office followed by a client dinner. The poor thing had to be up at five in the morning to catch the first flight back to London for more work, so he pretty much zonked. I woke up for a quick second to kiss him goodbye and give him the breakfast snacks I bought for him at the grocery store in case everything at the airport was closed. Then it was back to sleep for a few more precious hours before I had to get up early to start my castle touring!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Earthquake Fundraiser

Pretty soon after I returned from Amsterdam, there was some horrifying news coming out of Nepal of a huge earthquake that had killed thousands of people. I suppose as a defence mechanise, it becomes necessary to maintain a distance from all the horrible things that happen in the world. It's too easy to become hopeless and feel helpless in the face of never-ending tide of bad news.

However, I had been there. I had visited Everest Base Camp and Kathmandu. I had hiked the Kathmandu Valley rim. I had seen the remarkable buildings before they were reduced to rubble, and I remembered the beautiful vistas of a lush country. It was impossible not to do something.

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I decided to try to raise money by holding a bake sale. J's office has always been so generous, and they agreed to let me bring in some things for an in-office fundraiser. It was on a "take what you'd like, leave what you can" basis, and we managed to get around £500 in donations over just two days!

 
J and another partner agreed to match the amount, which meant we got a total of £1500! I was genuinely stunned with how generous people were, and I was so happy to donate that money to the Humane Society International. Their aid workers were already on the ground in Nepal and ready to assist with animals in need as a result of the earthquake. I remembered seeing how important animals were to the lives of the locals, especially those that lived out of Kathmandu. They needed the mules to get goods through the rough terrain to their homes that were otherwise unreachable, and their livelihoods often depended on their goats and chickens in addition to their farming.

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I also remembered the sweetest dog that had followed us for a while we were trekking. All it took was a few scratches behind his ears to have him follow us before we had to leave him behind. I really wished I could take him home with me, and I hope he made it through the earthquake and is happy and healthy in a forever home somewhere.

I was really grateful to the partner that also agreed to match, so I ended up baking a few birthday cakes for her husband's birthday the following week. The birthday man was German, so I wanted to try a few new German items I had never tried before. I'm still not quite sure they came out right, but they seemed pretty happy with it so I'm going to chalk it up to a win.