Saturday, September 29, 2012

Vienna -- Photo Gallery Part 1

The album for Vienna is turning into quite a project, so I'm going to post it in sections as I complete them. This first part covers the Museum District, Hopfburg Palace, the royal treasury, and the Hapsburg family crypt.

Germany-Austria-Slovakia 2012 -- Vienna Part 1

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Salzburg -- Photo Gallery

Salzburg Photo Edits complete. Here's the link...
Germany-Austria-Slovakia 2012 -- Salzburg

Berlin -- Photo Gallery

I have finished editing the images from the Berlin part of our journey. Check them out at:
Germany-Austria-Slovakia 2012 -- Berlin

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Germany-Austria Trip 2K12 -- The Return Trip from Hell

   6:30 GST (Hour 0). We start off on the right food with a good breakfast in the hotel lobby, the height of which for me was a rolled pickled herring filet.
   7:30 GST (Hour 1). We travel by bus from the hotel to the airport, making a few stops, but getting there with relative ease. Tegel is a strange airport where the gates all have their own independent security lines. We checked in on one line, walked 10 meters, then waited to go through security directly into our departure gate. German security going through to the US is very strict -- much stricter than any security line I've ever been through in the US. We were patted down, all our luggage was upheaved and sorted and processed through the x-ray machine twice. The security agents had an impromptu conference about my camera monopod and decided it looked too much like something you could bludgeon the flight crew with, so I was forced to check my large bag.
   9:30 GST (Hour 3). On to the plane, only to wait on the runway for 45 minutes while the flight crew "refile their paperwork." Apparently the headwinds were going to be so bad that they were going to make a detour fuel stop in Canada, which they assured us would take 20 minutes. On the plane I have a particularly awful chicken breast thing that tasted like it had lived in a freezer for several months before gracing my dinner tray. I watch 3 movies on the trip, unable to sleep, as usual on plane trips.
   10:00 EST (Hour 10). We land in "Goose Bay" Canada, world reknowned destination for refueling airplanes and little else. The passengers remain on the plane of course, since it's just suppoed to be a short pit stop.
   11:00 EST (Hour 11). After more "paperwork" issues, we finally get off the ground and on our way to Newark. I have a scotch and soda and watch Casablanca.
   15:00 EST (Hour 15). We arrive in Newark, having already missed our connection to Tampa. We go through customs and then wait in line to get a new connection, now scheduled for 19:00 EST. My father buys me a Guinness and I have a corned beef sandwich. I note the irony of the fact that the first thing I eat in the US is a sandwich made with saurkraut.
   19:00 EST (Hour 19). We get on board the plane to Tampa, relieved to be on the last leg. We are 20th in line for take-off and wait 45 minutes on the taxiway.
   22:00 EST (Hour 22). In a flight stupor, we stumbled out of the plane and into the Tampa Airport, where Jeannie is blssedly waiting to pick us up.
   23:00 EST (Hour 23). We get back to the apartment, ironically a little more energized from telling stories on the drive back to Palm Harbor. We catch the end of Bill Clinton's address to the Democratic convention, and then I promptly pass out. There are no pictures of the day.

   Thanks for following our adventure through Germany, Austria and Slovakia. I hope you enjoyed my ramblings. It was a great trip despite the transitory issues and one both of us are unlikely to forget any time we have this blog as an archive to remember things! Once I sort through the 1800 exposures I took and adjust, weed, and polish, I will post a link to the gallery.

  So long and guten nacht!

Leipzig -- Day 1

   It threatened to be a jammed-packed day, as we not only had to see everything we wanted to see in Leipzig, but get to over to the hotel near Berlin-Tegel as well. Tegel is one of those airports like Gatwick. It's the old airport and it's "in the city" only in the loosest of definitions. But before any further talk of Berlin, we have to talk about Leipzig!
   First thing, we went to find a place to have breakfast. Originally we were planning on going to a famous coffee shop, but as it turns out, they're not open for breakfast, so we went to another place nearby called, rather unfortunately, Club Spizz.  There I had a traditional Leipzig breakfast, which includes a seven-minute egg, brown bread, some smoked ham, liverwurst and....wait for it....lard. Yes, that's right, apparently a big thing in Eastern Germany is bacon-infused lard on bread. I did eat it. It was ok, though it's hard to get past the fact that you're pretty much spooning lard directly into your face.
The main attraction, so to speak, in the city is the fact that it was the long-time home of J.S. Bach and his family. He was the cantor of Thomaskirch for several years as well as teaching at the adjoined school. St. Thomaskirch itself is a gothic Lutheran Church, partially rebuilt after allied bombing in WWII and oft-restored since sulphur and soot from a nearby mine did extensive damage to the statuary and paintings inside over time.
   Across the street from Thomaskirch, in his formal home, is a museum dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach, his life and family and of course his music. We managed to go to the Bach museum on the only day of the month that admission is free, so we stepped through each room and listened to every audioguide snippet until our heads were packed full of Bach trivia. Here's a piece that's floated to the surface now -- Bach had 2 wives over the couse of his days, and between them fathered *20* children. As a result, there are several Bach relatives alive today. Sadly, none are in the music trade anymore.
   After the Bach museum, we headed to Zum Arabischen Cofe Baum (Of the Arabian Coffee Tree), which declares itself to be one of the oldest continually running coffee shops in Europe. Atop the old shop is a slightly tongue-in-cheek museum dedicated to the history of coffee in Europe generally and in Leipzig particularly. An interesting fact is that there used to be four dedicated members-only Masonic coffeehouses in Leipzig, where members of the Freemasonry performed their secret rites and...presumably drank coffee.
   I had a house specialty flavored coffee (I know, I know, I was reluctant even to put that in writing. I'll be thrown out of the coffee-snob club for sure for this one). This being one my last opportunities for trying food in Saxony, I also had a Leipziger Gose beer -- Brett, pay attention, because this one is really unique.
   Gose beer is a top-fermented regional speciality beer made with at least 50% malted wheat. In the brewing they add corriander and salt during the brewing and do a short malolactic fermentation at the end to give it a strong, sour character. It was *very* different, almost tasting like a cider.
   They also had a dessert on the menu that I couldn't stop myself from ordering, and I am sure glad I did because it was one of my favorites for the whole trip. Take whole, stoned plums, stuff them with Marzipan, add a little quark cheese, dip in a sweet batter, deep fry the whole thing, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and add a sauce made with sloe plums. Serve with a bit of ice cream. Absolutely fantastic.
   Afterward we strolled around downtown, deciding not to go to any more museums with the hour and a half left to us. We walked through the downtown farmer's market, oogling the fresh end-of-summer fruits and veggies, the meat and seafood vendors, and the spice vendors. At a local dairy market we braved a bottle of fresh local milk, since we won't be able to get anything like that it in the states. It was really good, though I suffered a little for drinking all that dairy.
   We walked to a park on the Goethestrasse across the street from the train station to watch some ducks while we burned off some time before our train and then left Leipzig at 3pm for Berlin. By the time we got to Berlin it was about 5 and we took an S train to the canalfront, where we stopped at a restaurant right on the channel. It was a really nice final dinner in Germany -- we had a table next to the river and the weather was cool and bright and beautiful
  I had ox cheeks with a potatoe cake topped with chanterelles (in season and all over the place). The cheeks themselves were braised in a red wine sauce and topped with some kind of "foam". Foam is a big culinary trend right now, and I think it's kind of a rubbish trend to be honest. The meal looked great except for said foam, which sort of made it look like someone had spit on the food -- not a very appealing presentation. Still, it was delicious, spit and all.
   Dad had his *acutal* last Wiener shnitzel of the trip, and much to our surprises, it was actually the best shnitzel we'd had so far.
   We watched the sun go down over Berlin and said our silent farewells to the city, and essentially our trip and started our winding way to the hotel near the airport.
   And when they say "near the airport", they mean "in the approach lane". They also failed to mention the lack of AC in the room which required that we open the windows and allow the planes to swoop by. You could hear them coming practically off the runway. By the time the plane passed by, it had evolved into a brain-filling roar. Eventually we had to endure the warmth and close those windows to avoid feeling like the wrath of God was coming down on us every five minutes.
   The next day would start at 6:30 am, and since I am writing this entry a few days late, let me foreshadow and say that it would be a travel day for the recordbooks.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Leipzig -- Day 0

  Much of the day was given over to traveling to Leipzig. At the last moment I had doubts about the fact that our connection on the town of Lufta gave us only a 10 minute window to get from one train to the next, *assuming* everything was running on time. I decided that maybe the train service rep had jumped the gun a little when making our reservations, so I went to a self-service ticket machine and decided to give some new reservations a try. Well there was a train leaving an hour later, at 11 instead of 10, that got us to Leipzig at the same time as the other train, but had no connections to worry about. Stellar. I signed us up for that, but it meant that we were going to have a little longer wait in the train station.
   So be it. Luckily my initial estimate of how far it is between Leipzig and Berlin was flawed -- it's only an hour and a half train ride, so the trip tomorrow, our last of the journey, will be a blessedly short one compared to the beast of a commute that was Munich to Leipzig.
   Leipzig is a college town, and small at that. While it is technically the largest city in Saxony, the whole of the tourist section of town is less than 4 square miles and all emminently walkable. Our hotel is across the street from the train station and our room has a nice view of the next-door park.
   When we arrived in Leipzig, we walked right to the hotel, dropped off our bags, then headed to the #2 attraction in the city, which also happens to be a restaurant -- Auerbachs Keller. In his day, this was the writer Goethe's favorite hangout, a place that he immortalized in Faust. The restaurant has been playing up that angle ever since, with it's Faust themed wall murals and Mephistophelean graphics on the menu. It's actually a really nice-looking place in the heart of downtown, and its traditional Saxon menu has some really great stuff on it. I had a pork cutlet that came with a "farmer's pie" made from potatoes, sheeps cheese, cabbage, apples and pepper. It was a surprising and pleasant flavor combination -- the sweets, sours and savories coming together really nicely. I was pleasantly surprised.
   One of the most famous desserts in Leipzig is called quarkkeulchen, a pastry made with quark, a sort of cream cheese. The one at Auerbachs Keller was served with a scoop of cinammon ice cream and an apple cream. It was good, but not awesome.  The presentation was nice though.
   Tomorrow we're headed to the Bach museum, apparently the main event for any Leipzig trip. Our train leaves for Berlin at 3:50, but like I said, everything in this town is close by, so we're leaving our bags at the hotel lobby and touring around as much as we can before we catch the train. Even if we miss our reserved train, only being an hour and a half away, there are trains leaving to Berlin constantly, so I'm not worried.
   Sadly, the trip is nearly over. I think we could both use a break from rushing around Europe and navigating the labyrinth of transit lines, but I'm going to miss the adventure.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Munich -- Day 2

   Today we spent the better part of the day at the main palace in Munich, Nymphenburg Palace, the seat of the once great Bavarian royal family. Nymphenburg's grounds contain the palace itself, the royal carriage museum, an off-limits menagerie, a huge garden with its own forest, lake and two streams, as well as four smaller houses open to the public that were for guests and parties when the palace was just too tedious for the royal family to endure.
   The palace itself was as grand as we've come to expect from the Bavarians -- loaded with golden filligree, rich mosaics and enormous chandeliers. I feel like I'm starting to sound tedious about visiting royal villas, but I can assure you that each place we've visited has been a great, unique experience, despite my oft cynical tone.
   Next was the carriage museum, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds. The royal family liked to travel in style, and a vast majority of their carriages are wheeled sculptures -- art pieces in their own right, given as much care in craftsmanship as any palatial salon. The most opulent carriages of course belonged to Ludwig II, Bavaria's fairytale king. We lost track of how many carriages and sleds were actually his, but I believe the number was around nine. There was also mini-carriages for the princes and princesses, which must have been pulled by either very big dogs, very grumpy servants, or the tiniest horses in the world.
   Once on the palace grounds, it's easy to forget you're on a piece of walled property and not a wild, wooded glade. The grounds are vast. I don't have the numbers here, but I'd imagine they're at least a square kilometer, if not more. Speckled throughout are several houses that the royal family used for special events, guest quarters, or just for an afternoon getaway into their own private countryside.
  The first of these that we visited was Amalienburg, which was mostly done in an ornate silver Rococco style, with a kitchen covered entirely in handpainted dutch tiles.
   600 meters down the path from Amalienburg is Badenburg, which relies heavily on Chinese motifs that were popular at the time with Bavarian well-to-dos.
   Across the grounds on a symmetry with Badenburg is Pagodenburg, which as the name implies, which has an interior also in that same Chinese style, though Pagodenburg is the older and smaller of the two.
   The last, running parallel with Amalienburg on the other side of the grounds, is Magdalenenklause. At first blush, Magdalenenklause appears to be the oldest of the grounds houses, resembling an old church. But as it turns out, the building was *constructed* to look like a ruin, complete with fake grotto and crumbling exterior wall that isn't actually crumbling. Somehow that made me appreciate the absurdity all the more.
   It was 2pm by the time we finished strolling the dewy grounds and admiring the houses and the palace and the museum and we had one more stop on our list of sightseeing in Munich -- the Deutches Museum.
   The Deutches Museum is a technology museum with an enormous interior space, a large portion of which is dedicated to the aerospace industry, though there are large sections for all manner of technological wonders -- from the advancement of electricity, to musical instruments, to rail and tunnel tech. We could have easily spent an entire day there and not had time to appreciate everything. As it stood, we spent 3 or so hours there.
   I have to take the time to note a bit of irony, however, in the museum's "future technology" section. The whole section was dedicated to talking about nanotech, biomedical research and computer advancement -- it had no free public wifi and a good quarter of the high-tech touch-screen displays were offline due to "software issues." Yeah, I'm just saying.
   After the museum, we hunted down a nearby restaurant that the internet recommended, called Fraunhoffer. It's a typical Bavarian beer hall, and we called a little early and had to wait twenty minutes before they opened up. The benefit of this is that, as some of the first customers, our food was coming right out of the kitchen as they made it, and boy did we make it a good one this time.
   My father had wienerschnitzel again, lamenting that this was probably the last time he'd have the opportunity to have a good one -- who am I to deny him that, right? I had young venison medallions with spätzel and it was easily the best meal I've had in Munich, if not the whole trip. Bambi was delicious, sorry folks. I also split another Kaisershmarnn with my father, this one was served with a mix of plum preserves and applesauce, and it was lightyears beyond what we had at the Wildman in Salzburg. My favorite dessert of the trip for sure. All of this was of course washed down with a few local lagers. Then we waddled back to the U-bahn to catch the train home.
   Oh boy, transit trouble story time! This time caused by yours truly, not from a lack of directional prowess, but from an over-eagerness to get onto a train that was leaving just as we stepped off the escalator. The short story is that those doors on the subway lines don't get held open when you pull on them, and I managed to get on the train while my father did not.
   Keep in mind here that I am the only one of this party with a phone, and I'm also the one that navigated us to this station in the first place, so my father was...unfamiliar with the U-bahn layout thus far. Very calmly I got off at the next station and decided that he probably would just catch the next train and meet me here, since all the trains at that station ran through this station as well. When two trains and 15 minutes passed and he didn't step out, I decided I should probably take action. I don't know if I've told you, but I'm a fan of logic games, and what we have here in Game Theory is called a Nash Equilibrium. If both of us acted rationally, then we would both stay in our stations, waiting for the other one to make a move for eternity. If both of us acted irrationally, we would both try to find the other person and never the two shall meet. The real solution would have been to both find our way to our final destination, the hotel station. Well, in the end, I was the irrational one, father chose the rational path, and we ended up meeting back at the station where we had separated in the first place. Oh well, take that, Game Theory.
   Tomorrow we have what *should* have been a four hour train ride to Leipzig, but the train were directed to by the train company reps is taking us through a connection in the town of Fulda, and the trip is actually going to be six hours. We'll arrive there at 4pm, in time to eat and...knowing us, get lost and eventually retire to the hotel room exhausted.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Munich -- Day 1 (Bavaria Castle Tour)

   Today we woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel. It was a pretty typical spread and not noteworthy enough for further mention. We then waited in the hotel lobbhy for the tour bus to pick us up for our whirlwind tour of King Ludvig the Second's castles by way of the Bavarian countryside. It was the longest and most structured day of the trip so far.
   Organized tours are a mixed blessing for me. On one hand, you don't have to think and organize and plan how you're going to get around to certain places. You don't have to worry about when things will be open or wait in line for tickets or how much time to alot to this and that. They've done all that for you. On the other hand -- they've done all that for you, and the result is often a very canned experience where the tour company points you at where to shop, what to look at, and tries to squeeze as much "doing" in as little time as possible.
   Eg: this tour. The Bavarian countryside is gorgeous, with rolling hills, smoky mountains and quaint farmhouses, and we certainly got to see a lot of it as the drive to the first stop on the tour was nearly an hour and a half from Munich.
   The destination of the first tour stop was the second castle he lived in, and the only one to be completed in his lifetime -- Linderhof. Linderhof is the smallest of "Mad King" Ludwig's creations and is modeled extensively after Louis the XIV's Palace at Versailles. The castle is a homage to Louis the XIV's absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings and is a prime example of decadent Roccoco style. The most fascinating part of the tour for me was seeing the king's small dining table, which could be raised and lowered into his private dining hall so he wouldn't have to interact with his servants or be disturbed. Ludwig was a bit of a loner.
   The second stop was the cheery little tourist-trap village of Oberammergau, known for its every-ten-year passion play (that lasts 7 hours) and its traditional woodwork. We skipped both and chose to walk around the town for the 40 minutes the tour had designated for shopping at the suggested souvenir shops.
   The final stop on the tour was Neuschwanstein, Ludwig the Second's most famous castle. It is known for, among many things, being the inspiration for Disney's castle at the Magic Kingdom.
   But before that, lunch. We went to the tour's suggested restaurant at the base of the mountain where Neuschwanstein is located. My father had a small bowl of Gulash soup and I decided to be adventurous and try the whole fried river trout. While some people may find the idea of eating a fish with its face and fins still attached, such things have never bothered me. I think I might have weirded out the couple that was sharing a table with us, but to heck with them. It was delicious -- obviously very fresh, with a nice rivery taste and delicate, perfectly edible pinbones. Good, good, good.
   The tour guide on the bus had informed us that it was an "easy 40 minute walk" up the mountain to the castle entrance, and that taking a bus would probably mean waiting almost as long, since the bus schedule going up to Neuschwanstein is oddly intermittent. So we decided to brave it. The mountain scenery was very nice, but boy was that a brutal climb. It took only 30 minutes, but I was worried that I was going to have to put dad down by the side of the road at one point, poor fella. We did make it up, with plenty of time to spare for exterior photographs and landscape shots before the tour. Half the exterior of the castle is under extensive refurbishment and was covered in scaffolding, but I still managed to get some ok shots from certain angles.
   The tour of the interior of the castle begins with a torturous walk up one of the parapets, into the entrance hall and servants quarters. Then a small walk, and another brutal spiral climb into the king's throne room and personal chambers. All of the rooms in Neuschwanstein are themed after German myths that the composer Wagner turned into operas -- Sigfried, Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal are the prime targets. There may have been more tribute rooms planned, but the castle was never finished. Ludwig died mysteriously as a young man of 40 during its construction and all work on the castle immediately ceased.
   Within Neuschwanberg are several noteworthy constructions (and needless to say, the exterior is noteworthy as well.) The first is Ludwig's "throne room" which I put in quotes because a throne was never installed or constructed for it. It does house a cool chandalier, an impressive mosaic floor, and a wall mural of St. George slaying a dragon -- and who doesn't love that, right?
   The next rooms, his personal living quarters, are painted with murals from his favorite Wagner opera, Tristan and Isolde. Woodcarvers took four years to complete the work in this room, specifically the canopy of his four-post bed, which is an amalgam of the spires of great cathedrals throughout Europe.
  Connecting his living quarters to his study is a small room designed to look like the interior walls of a cavern. These were actually lit up with electric lights run on batteries, even during Ludwig's time here. It was made to look like the Grotto of Venus, which is a part of Wagner's opera Tännhauser.
   The last room of note was the Singer's Hall, painted based on scenes from Wagner's Percifal as he quested for the holy grail. Ludwig never actually heard a single performance in the Singer's hall, as he died after living just 160 days in the castle.
   After the tour we made the walk back down the mountain with our legs promising great horrors inflicted upon us come the morrow's sunrise. But made it we did, and returned to the bus for a 2 hour ride back to Munich in the light rain that followed us.
   When we got to Munich, I had developed a powerful hunger. Oh yes. Time for one of Munich's great traditions -- the beirhall. We went to a place called Augustiner-Keller just outside of the Haupftbahnhof, and sat down at a long table with a very drunk, very rowdy group of Brittons, who provided us with plenty of entertainment as we ate our Bavarian speciality foods and drank our Bavarian beers.
   Dad had a...well it was a plate of sausages, really. I don't how else to describe it. I had a sampler plate of Bavarian classics -- suckling pig, pork knuckle, roasted duck...there might have been some other meat in there. I really don't know. Overall it was passable food -- not the best we've had, but not bad, and the bierhall experience made it worthwhile anyway.
   And thus I successful kept my father out and and about past sundown for one day.
   Tomorrow we've got another palace to visit in Munich and some museums to hit up. I'm still trying to get my hands on an offal dish called Beuscherl, so I'l try to find a place that serves it tomorrow.