Monthly Archives: October 2012

Back so soon?

Katie and I weren’t really sure how to do the whole “absentee ballot” thing, so we decided to fly home for the United States presidential election. Okay, that’s not entirely true. We’re coming back to the States for my sister’s wedding, but I must say that I’m excited to be back for election night. There’s nothing like a night of pizza, beer and exit polling while watching incredibly biased anchors forecast who will be the next leader of the free world. It’s way more fun when the race is close, so this year should be particularly exciting.

But back to my sister’s wedding. My younger sister, Beth, the girl who Katie and I give credit for bringing us together, is getting married on November 10 in Milwaukee. The bachelorette party is this Saturday and, seeing as how Katie is the maid of honor (matron of honor?), we felt it kind of important that she be there. So we’re coming home tomorrow and we’ll stay stateside until the Monday after the wedding.

It’s crazy to think that we’re already heading back home, although this stint in Munich was shorter than our other ones. When we went home in April and August it was on the heels of three-plus months in Europe. This stretch has “only” been a little under two months, but it still flew by exceptionally fast. Part of it was the busy September, but another part of it is likely the mental realization that our time here is quickly coming to an end — which seems to make the time go by even faster.

When we head back after the wedding, we’ll have just a few more weeks in Munich before heading home for good in early December (a date that should be finalized in a few days, actually). We’ve already begun to transition back to life in Milwaukee. I’m job hunting and Katie is house hunting. The apartment we live in here in Munich has been re-listed online. We’re in the process of closing our German bank account and looking to sell our bikes. We’re even bringing home a suitcase full of “stuff we don’t need here anymore” to make the move in December a little lighter. It’s sad just writing about it.

But while the eventual end to our European adventure is “bitter,” there’s certainly plenty of “sweet” to be had in the thought of coming back to the Midwest, especially our family and friends in the Milwaukee area. And we’re looking for a taste of that sweetness starting tomorrow when we head back to America. I’m not sure if we’ll blog any while we’re home, so look for another update in a couple of weeks!

And congratulations in advance to my sister, Beth, and her soon-to-be-husband (and awesome guy), Nathan Colson!

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Autumn in the English Garden

It was a beautiful day in Munich today. We went on a bike ride through the English Garden and captured some pretty amazing photos. We’ve pasted some below. The rest can be found in our Flickr gallery, Autumn in the English Garden.

The lake in the English Garden.

The Chinesischer Turm beer garden.

One of the garden’s many creeks.

Lots of yellow among the trees.

Just awesome.

Looking across the Isar river.

Love this photo.

One of the garden’s many bridges.

Many of the trees were in full Autumn colors.

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Munich Marathon

It’s marathon season. You need not look any further than your Facebook feed for proof of that. Seeing several of my friends post photos of themselves or their friends basking in their own marathon or half-marathon completions made me wish that I had gone through with one this year. I came close, actually. Back in the spring when I was starting to log some decent mileage, Katie and I found out about the Munich Marathon and thought it would be perfect. But the reality of our travel schedule (and visitors) eventually made me think I wouldn’t have the time to dedicate to training. (And there’s nothing worse than running a marathon without the right training.)

But I digress …. The point of this post is to show a few pictures from today’s Munich Marathon that Katie and I, while not official participants, decided to check out as fans. The weather and course could not have been more ideal for long distance runners. The Munich course is very flat and takes runners through the picturesque English Gardens, the famous Marienplatz and ends by passing through Olympic Park. Coupled with a runner-friendly 55-degree day — a perfect Autumn day, if you ask us — it probably made for an ideal marathon. I mean, if you’re going to run 26+ miles, you might as well do it on a flat course with cool temperatures.

Runners crossing a bridge in Munich’s Olympic Park.

All runners — for the full marathon, the half marathon and the 10K — finished in the Olympic Stadium with their final 400 meters taking place around the same track that once hosted the finale of the Olympic marathon.

Inside Olympic Stadium where all of the races finished.

Katie and I shared a brat and radler (half beer, half lemonade) and sat in the sun-soaked stands as we watched the three-hour finishers (the race started at 10 a.m. and we got there around 1 p.m.). We stayed for an hour in order to see the finishers of the half-marathon. That race began at 1 p.m. and the winner sprinted by — darting in and out of marathon finishers — at about 2:10 p.m. So the runner was going at a pace just over five minutes per mile. Not too bad.

One moment that stuck out for both of us was seeing a man stumble with about 200 meters to go. He had to be helped to the sideline by his three co-runners. As he was in the process of being laid down on the ground, the female runner he was with quickly — without missing a beat — unsnapped the time chips from the shoes of her friends and went on to finish the race while her two friends tended to the fallen runner. This meant that the three runners who didn’t technically cross the finish line would still have a registered finishing time — and that all four of their times would be equal. About 10 minutes after this happened we watched as the woman returned with three medals — one for each of her friends. It was a cool thing to see.

You know what else was cool to see? All of the marathon finishers with pretzels and weiss beer. That made me wish even more that I had run the race.

This man did not understand why I was taking his picture.

There was one other thing that stood out today. Later on, after we left Olympic Park, I biked into the Marienplatz to meet a friend of mine for a beer who recently moved to Munich. I rode down the traffic-free Leopoldstrasse because it was still blocked off for the race. But the only runners I saw were the back-of-the-pack few who were struggling to finish the race. The crowds were more or less gone and in the distance  you could see big trucks beginning to pick up the street dividers. But here these runners were, still chugging along, determined to meet their goal of a completed race. I found myself shouting words of encouragement, knowing that the path ahead of them likely seemed uphill and long. I admired their strength and determination. It reminded me that most runners in these races run them to finish them. Their race time isn’t as important as crossing that finish line.

I hope all of the runners from today’s race feel proud of what they accomplished. And if nothing else, I think they’ve officially convinced me to give marathon #3 a go next year!

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Oktoberfest!

Today was a day of much-needed rest for the people of Munich — and their livers. That’s because today – for the first time in over two weeks – there was no Oktoberfest to attend. After 16 straight days of beer, pretzels, sausage, music, lederhosen and dirndls, the world’s greatest festival has come to a close.

Katie and I made it out to the Thereisienwiese grounds on four separate occasions and loved every second of it. Oktoberfest (also known locally as “Wiesn”) is just as we remembered it from our 2010 trip and this year was even better given our company and, of course, our choice of attire:

Becoming more and more German with each passing day (and beer).

I tell everyone that Oktoberfest is essentially the Wisconsin State Fair, but with beer tents. When you’re outside of the tents, you’re surrounded by food vendors, games, rides and merchandise kiosks. The grounds are laid out in the shape of a ladder, with two main streets and several smaller connecting streets (the rungs of the ladder, if you will). The festival itself is free to attend, too. Unlike similar festivals back home, which charge an entry fee, Oktoberfest has no cover charge.

The beer tents themselves aren’t tents at all. They’re actually massive buildings that can hold up to 10,000 (drunk) people. And get this — they aren’t permanent structures. These buildings are constructed every year (they begin in the summer) and torn down as soon as the festival ends. If you go to the grounds in the winter or spring you’ll see nothing but an empty plot of land. I’m not sure of the logic behind that, but it’s how they do it.

The Paulaner beer “tent.”

It’s upon stepping inside of a tent that you feel as if you’re at Oktoberfest. Your eyes are greeted with thousands of happy, loud, friendly, mostly-drunk people standing on top of tables singing along with a 10+ person band playing in the middle of the room. The band is usually playing American and British hits from multiple decades over the past 50 years, making it quite enjoyable for English-speaking attendees. There’s little room to maneuver and the tents can get quite hot. You have to get there super early (by 3 p.m. on the weekdays and 10 a.m. on the weekends) if you want any chance of finding an open table. We actually preferred standing along the outer rails where it was a little cooler, so arriving to the grounds in the evening hours was not a problem.

Welcome to Oktoberfest.

Each of our visits was a little different. For our first trip we took my mom and step-dad during one of their nights in Munich. The four of us crammed into a picnic table outside of the Augustiner tent and feasted on a dinner of roasted chicken, sausage and fries. We washed it down with a couple of shared Maß’s (“mass’s” — the big glasses that hold a liter of beer). Then we walked around the entire fair before stopping for apple strudel and roasted cashews. This was the night that Katie and I debuted our German ensembles.

Prost!

We returned a couple of days later with our friends Dan and Leah who came to Munich after a few days in Rome. We got to the Fest late that night and, because it was our first chance to really talk with them since welcoming them to Germany, we opted for another outside table — this time at the Schottenhamel tent — so we could enjoy our beers in an environment conducive for conversation. The Schottenhamel tent is the festival’s most famous. It’s where the mayor of Munich famously taps the first keg and gives permission to all of the other tents to start selling beer. This tent held only 50 people back in 1867 — now it holds around 10,000!

The following two visits — on back-to-back nights — had a slightly different feel. By this point Katie’s good friend, also named Katie, had made it to Munich in surprise fashion. (By the way, major props to Katie for going to Oktoberfest on her first night in town despite the jet lag!) The five of us spent both nights in the tents — the Hacker-Festzelt tent on the first night and the Hofbrau tent on the second night — and passed the hours by belting out American songs, meeting fellow lederhosen- and dirndl-wearing locals, and toasting (“prosting”) everyone in sight. We had little issues getting into a tent on Monday night (though the tables were still jam packed), but when we went back on Tuesday night, the entire festival seemed twice as crowded. It took us a good 20-30 minutes of waiting outside of the Hofbrauhaus tent before we were let in. We almost left the festival because every tent had crowds of people waiting outside trying to get in. We learned, though, that if you wait long enough, they eventually let new people in.

Leah, Dan, Katie, Katie and I in the Schottenhamel tent on Monday night.

The two Katies thought it would be fun to try out some of the rides. The first night we rode one of those “Giant Drop” like towers which actually offered a pretty nice view of Munich. It probably would have been even better during the daytime. The following night I got dragged onto one of those Haunted House rides where you sit in a car riding through total darkness while things jump out at you. It’s even more intense with a few beers in your system.

I also discovered the most delicious pork sandwich I’ve ever had — the Schweinesteak. It’s a grilled piece of seasoned pork served on a roll. And it’s delicious. I had one on the first night and two on the second night.

One other thing. I know the alcohol has something to do with it, but the people at Oktoberfest — regardless of where they come from — are all so friendly. It’s pretty amazing that so many people (6.4 million came to Oktoberfest this year) can come to one small plot of land for the sole purpose of drinking and do so in such a relatively peaceful manner. Of course, there are fights here and there, but for the most part it’s very orderly.

I hope that 2012 won’t be the last time Katie and I get to experience Oktoberfest. But having been five times in the past three years will last us for quite a while. And as fun as 2010 was, being able to share it with friends and family made the 2012 version that much better.

As always, more pictures are on our Flickr page.

Prost!

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Rothenburg, Germany

If you ever ask someone to recommend a really “German-looking” town to visit, chances are they’re going to tell you to go to Rothenburg. It’s a well-preserved medieval town about a 2.5-hour drive northwest of Munich. We made the trip last week with my mom and step-dad, spending about four hours walking around the city.

Don’t let the term “medieval town” influence too much of what you think of it. It’s not like a castle town from “Game of Thrones.” It’s essentially a quaint, traditional German town with a medieval city wall surrounding it. Arched passageways, cobblestone streets and alleys that twist and turn throughout the town heighten its charm. We felt as if we had stepped into a Disney cartoon (think “Pinocchio”).

A town Hansel and Gretel would have been proud to call ‘home.’

We spent a good hour strolling through the streets, visiting the main Marktplatz square, popping in a couple of stores (where Jim and my mom bought a beautiful sketch of the town by a local artist) and taking dozens of pictures.

Eventually our stomachs told us it was time for lunch. Katie – who has yet to fail when it comes to finding good restaurants in Europe – let us to a place called “Burgerkeller” (no, they don’t sell burgers). It’s a tiny basement restaurant run by a very kind man who serves as both host, waiter and cook (or so it seemed). Now, we’ve had a lot of German food this year. A lot. And this was, by far, the best German food we have had. We each had something different – roasted pork, spicy sausage, fresh salad and wiener schnitzel – and everything was better than any earlier version we may have tried elsewhere. It was all so fresh and delicious. Of course, I washed my meal down with a weiss beer, enjoying a Bavarian brew I hadn’t tried before: “Herrnbrau.” The owner was kind enough to let me keep the glass.

After lunch we continued our exploration of the town. We popped in St. Jacob’s cathedral, the largest church in the town, and marveled at the church’s 500-year-old wooden altar. Afterwards, Katie and my mom spent some time in the Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas store. This was a must-visit for Katie and she found a few more ornaments for our tree. While they were shopping, Jim and I visited the morbid-but-cool-sounding “Medieval Criminal Museum.” It was a couple floors of old torture machines and exhibits on “medieval forms of law enforcement.” This included iron maidens, executioner swords and chairs with spikes on the seat. The museum was of particular interest to him given his legal career. We both commented on how happy we are that the law has evolved from what it used to be!

No visit to Rothenburg would be complete without strolling down to the town’s most photographed spot (and one of the most photographed spots in all of Germany). It’s just a few steps off of the main square and is an image that Katie and I have seen on numerous guide books and travel posters.

No, we’re not at Disney World.

On the walk back to the car we stopped for a couple of snowballs. Well, “schneebällen,” to be exact. These little pastries are a Rothenburg invention. They’re essentially just strips of dough clumped into a ball and then coated in various toppings. I thought they were pretty good, especially the hazelnut one.

Mmmmm.

It was a delicious way to end our quick visit to the most German-looking town we’d ever been to (although Riquewihr – located in France, ironically – is up there).

More photos from Rothenburg are on our Flickr page.

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Zugspitze (gesundheit!)

There are three things I have been meaning to write about — our trip to the Zugspitze mountain peak, our visit to Rothenburg and, of course, Oktoberfest. But I didn’t want to cram them into one, giant post, so I’m breaking them up.

We went to the Zugspitze with my mom and step-dad when they were out here last week for a 5-day visit (which came on the heels of a few days on their own in Barcelona). It was so much fun to have them out here for that week and they certainly did and saw a lot. On a personal note, I really enjoyed the one-on-one time with both of them. I don’t get to see either of them very often even when I’m in the States, so I relished the opportunity to hang out with them.

The Zugspitze was something Katie told me about months ago when we first got to Munich. She said it was something we absolutely had to do before the year was up. It’s the highest point in Germany, way up in the Bavarian Alps. It’s part of the Wetterstein Mountains and sits a lofty 2,962 meters (almost 10,000 feet) above sea level. It sits just south of the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, about an hour and a half from Munich.

We rented a car and drove to the Zugspitze’s own train station in Garmisch (which is separate from the town’s central train station). Getting up to the peak requires a ticket (not cheap — about $60/person — my mom and step-dad generously treated us to our tickets) that allows you to take the train one way and the cable car the other way. All passengers, though, have to take the train from Garmisch to the Eibsee (a very cool mountain lake) since the cable car starts there. Once you’re at the Eibsee, you can choose which vehicle you take in which direction. From there the train takes about 45 minutes to get to the base of the peak whereas the cable car takes about 10 minutes.

Since we had a car, we drove to the Eibsee (otherwise it’s another 30-minute train ride from Garmisch to Eibsee) and decided to take the train up and the cable car down. We heard that taking the train up was better for people who might experience altitude sickness and that it offered a better view. The downside to taking the cable car down is that there’s often a long line, but we were lucky in that regard.

As the train climbed, we were treated to some breathtaking views of the Eibsee.

The Eibsee. (I bet the water was really cold.)

Once we reached the base of the peak we found ourselves in the midst of a small visitor’s center, a nice cafeteria, a smaller coffee house and a church. This point is just beneath the main peak, but still offers incredible views looking north.

We think the vehicles had something to do with smoothing out the ski slopes.

We grabbed a quick lunch in the cafeteria, checked out the church (small, quaint and with an amazingly beautiful crucifix) before taking the 3-minute tram ride up to the top of the mountain. It was during this point that we noticed hikers who were taking the extremely vertical-looking path up to the top of the Zugspitze.

The tram is faster.

Once we made it to the top, we had to climb a couple of flights of stairs before we were out on the observation deck. Words cannot describe the beauty of what we saw at that point. To be so high up and looking DOWN at everything around you isn’t something you get to experience every day. I was high up in the Andes Mountains when I hiked to Machu Picchu back in 2004, but that was only 8,000 feet. This was another 2,000 feet above that! It was a mostly sunny day (we needed our sunglasses!) and they said that visibility was about 120 kilometers. On really clear days they say you can see all the way into Italy.

Needless to say, we got plenty of photos:

It was surreal to be looking DOWN at the top of a mountain.

Looks like the Paramount movie icon.

On top of the world!

After walking around for awhile, we ducked into a small restaurant for some coffee to escape the cold (it was freezing up there). After that we walked over to the tram, waited for about 10 minutes, then took a brisk 10-minute ride down to the Eibsee where we hopped in the car and headed back for Munich. We stopped in Garmisch on the way back and spent a few minutes walking around the town.

The Zugspitze was an amazing experience. To anyone who has an appreciation for nature (and the extra money to spend), I would say it’s a must-see. The world just seems a little different when you’re that high up. Since we’ve done it, there have been several occasions where we’ve looked at the Alps in the distance and said, “Can you believe we were at the top of that?”

It was an experience we’ll never forget. You can see more photos on our Flickr page.

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A surprise visitor

We have a lot to catch everyone up on. Since we last blogged, we have been to Liechtenstein, Rothenburg and the Zugspitze mountain peak, as well as made return trips to Neuschwanstein castle and Salzburg, Austria. We also went to an amazing High Mass at St. Michael’s (for the feast of St. Michael) and have been to Oktoberfest three times. My mom and step-dad were out here for a week and our friends Dan and Leah are just wrapping up several days in Munich.

Again — lots to catch you up on!

But while I work on uploading photos and writing down all that we’ve seen, I have to share this video. Yesterday, our good friend (and Katie’s longtime friend) Katie Cary made a surprise visit to Munich. Well, I knew she was coming, but Katie had absolutely no idea. We decided to keep it from her so that we could pull off an epic surprise for the girl who claims she can’t be surprised. Naturally, we captured it on video. It’s pretty fantastic.

Here’s the link in case you don’t see it below.

More to come!

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